The debate in Australia about pill testing at events like music festivals has taken an abrupt turn after the federal government declared the idea was ‘utterly unthinkable’.
The speech given by Health Minister Greg Hunt yesterday was in response to Hobart City Council’s move to allow drug testing at all events in the jurisdiction.
Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie asked the minister: “Now we know pill testing saves lives and health experts agree a harm minimisation approach is the only sensible response to illicit drug use.
“Governments like Tasmania’s have shown they simply don’t understand the issue. So will you, as Health Minister, put the issue of pill testing on the COAG health council agenda?”
Without pausing, Hunt approached the lectern and said bluntly that the government’s stance is a categorical no.
Hunt told Question Time: “These are drugs which are illegal for a reason. They are drugs because they can kill. They are drugs because the nature of the response may not be known in an individual case
“What he [Wilkie] has proposed is, I believe, is a dangerous and unfounded course of action.
“The entire nation is seeking to deal with some of the challenges of amphetamines and of opioids, the idea that we could be condoning, encouraging and supporting the expansion of their consumption is, to my mind, utterly unthinkable.
“The idea that we would be condoning, encouraging and supporting the expansion of their consumption is, to my mind, utterly unthinkable.
“This is not a position which the Australian government will be adopting.”
This is the direct opposite approach suggested by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, who wrote to the federal government saying pill testing was advisable.
The RACP’s chapter of addiction medicine president Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones said if the system was ‘carefully designed’, then testing drugs at events could be life saving.
“Ideally, we would all like young people and the wider public not to use drugs illicitly, however, the reality is that they do in large numbers and the moral message to abstain from taking drugs is not getting through,” Dr Lloyd-Jones said.
“The evidence to date shows that existing policies in place at festivals to discourage drug taking, including heavy police presence, sniffer dogs and searches, are not effective.
“These policies are failing our communities and our young people, leading to unnecessary deaths.”
The RACP joins the The Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners who have backed the technology.