News & Current Affairs

By Satomi Hamon


Pill testing approved in ACT, but not going to happen at Spilt Milk

The ACT Government announced in September they would allow free pill testing to take place at the Spilt Milk music festival in Canberra on November 25, making it the first festival in Australia to provide this harm reduction service. However, Spilt Milk organisers, Kicks Entertainment, told ABC Radio yesterday the trial would not go ahead as required documentation had not been provided.  

Pill testing would be an anonymous and free service provided by Harm Reduction Australia. Festival goers would be able to attend a medical tent at Spilt Milk and provide a sample of a drug to be tested using laboratory grade equipment for free. 

The Canberra Times report it could take as little as a few minutes for the results to be processed, while the ABC claims the process normally takes about 10 to 15 minutes. After receiving the results (however long they may take), the person would have the option of keeping the pill or discarding it in an amnesty bin containing bleach. 

How many festival goers would have been sober enough to find the relevant tent and be patient enough to wait for their results is a moot point. The benefit of testing pills is its potential to reduce harm. The test informs a person, who wants to know, about what is really in their pills and how those substances may affect them. Regardless of the outcome of the test, festival goers will also be warned about the health risks of illegal drugs by trained drug counsellors. 

As music festivals are heavily policed, festival goers may have been concerned that if they utilise a pill testing service, they may run the risk of being stopped by officers on their way out of the tent. Punters can rest easy, however, as ACT police will operate in the same way that officers do around the country in regards to needle and syringe programs, and as such won’t target those who take advantage of the service.  

There have been countless drug related deaths at Australian music festivals in recent years, which has resulted in calls for alternative strategies other than the “strictly no drugs” policy so religiously enforced by the Australian government. While pill testing has its limitations (people can ignore results; some drugs may be undetectable; and the service could allude to safety when, in reality, the pills remain illegal and potentially harmful), its trial in Canberra would most likely have resulted in more good than bad. Kudos to the ACT Government for having the courage to step in a new direction and allow this service to proceed, assuming it will one day go ahead.