Pill-testing win in Victoria ‘fantastic outcome’

4 minute read

It seems Victorian premier Jacinta Allan has been listening to the RACGP and other pill-testing advocates.

Victoria’s introduction of a pill-testing trial in the state “will save lives”, according to the RACGP.

State premier Jacinta Allan backflipped on her predecessor Dan Andrews’ position today, announcing an 18-month trial starting this coming summer, including mobile and fixed site services.

RACGP Victoria chair, Dr Anita Munoz, said the announcement was a huge step forward.

“This will save lives,” she said.

“A drug-testing trial will enable people to understand what they are actually taking, including young people experimenting with illicit drugs who have their whole lives ahead of them.

“Drug-testing sites are also a great way of engaging with those who are using illicit drugs, including people in their teens and early 20s at music festivals and other similar events.

“Trained staff at these services can talk to them free of judgment about why they are using drugs and outline the risks involved.

“Drug testing has been proven to work in other jurisdictions, it makes sense, and it saves lives.

“This is a victory for common sense and sound policy over tired rhetoric and a ‘war-on-drugs’ mentality that gets us nowhere.

Alcohol and other drug use, whether it be illicit drug use at music festivals or people experiencing severe opioid dependence on drugs such as heroin, is a health issue,” said Dr Munoz.

The Victorian government is clear the trial is an implementation trial – not a trial for whether the service should exist long-term.

“It’s about testing different models of delivery for an important health service that eventually will be in place permanently,” said the government’s announcement.

The mobile service will begin at the start of the summer festival season and will be at up to 10 music festivals and events throughout the trial period.

A fixed site will also open in mid-2025 – delivered in partnership with a community or tertiary health provider, operating with targeted hours, and located in an inner Melbourne area close to nightlife and transport.

Trained peer workers and technical experts will be present during testing to provide personalised and confidential health information to help people make better, safer and more informed decisions.

Amendments will be made to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 in order to allow the trial to happen, “so nobody is breaking the law by operating or using the testing service”, said the Victorian government.

“The possession and supply of illicit drugs will not be decriminalised outside the service. Police powers outside the drug checking service will remain the same.

“The Department of Health will also work with agencies and major events to develop a Safer Music Festivals Framework, helping organisers and providers understand their roles and responsibilities in keeping patrons safe.”

Premier Allan said she was motivated by fears for her own children.

“Soon enough my own kids will be heading off to music festivals and parties with their mates, and like all parents, sometimes I catch myself thinking … what if the worst happens? What if they don’t come home?” she said.

“I don’t condone drugs, but if a young person gets handed a pill at a festival, they need someone to tell them exactly what it is and exactly what it does, without telling them that it’s safe.”

Dr Munoz said the RACGP Victoria had been calling for the move for some time.

“Earlier this year, we called on the Victorian Government to heed coronial recommendations to trial a drug testing service,” she said.

“The government has not only listened to the college, and a host of other groups, but acted decisively to introduce mobile and fixed sites.

“It’s such a fantastic outcome.”

RACGP Addiction Medicine spokesperson, Dr Marguerite Tracy, called for other states and territories to follow suit.

“This is fantastic news, and further evidence that momentum is building around Australia,” she said.

“In March this year, we welcomed Queensland becoming the first Australian jurisdiction to institute an ongoing drug testing or ‘pill testing’ service.

“The ACT has also successfully conducted drug testing at events such as music festivals and now has a fixed pill testing site. So, it is time for other states and territories to follow suit. 

“Every life is worth saving. And every day we delay is another day that people can experience overdoses and be hospitalised, or worse.”

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