Last Night's 'Q&A' Settled The Debate: Australia Wants Pill Testing & We Want It Now

19 February 2019 | 8:57 am | Staff Writer

'Let's get our head out of the sand and actually do what doctors are calling for.'

Q&A's drug policy special on Monday night offered interesting insight into calls for and against pill testing, however it was discussions from some key advocates that put the case forward to introduce testing in the country sooner rather than later.

Medical Director at the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, Dr Marianne Jauncey, said the recent evidence provided by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians should be considered when discussing pill testing. 

"We need a fundamental shift, actually, in our approach to this conversation," Jauncey said.

"One that is not driven by fear and yelling and shouting about the sky falling in. One that is based on the science, because that is to be celebrated and one that says the idea of a drug-free world, much in all as some people might like it is fanciful, so let's get our head out of the sand and actually do what doctors are calling for.

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"At the end of the day, I think doctors should be the ones making the call about physiology or impact of drugs and we've got the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australian Medical Association all unequivocally coming out saying there is value in evaluating a trial of pill safety testing. Why wouldn't we do that?"

Meanwhile, former Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Mick Palmer again pushed back on claims that pill testing is a way to encourage young people taking drugs to music festivals. 

"I think the reality of the environment is all the problems we're talking about are occurring at the moment under a 'say no, no tolerance' process. Nothing that we're talking about in terms of pill testing is offering a green light," Palmer said.

"I wouldn't be associated with a green light process. No one is suggesting taking drugs is a good idea. It's a medical intervention that's intended to give people very strong warnings about why they should take care, what it is they're taking, why they should perhaps think again. But the reality is it's a social habit that a lot of young people do. Whether I think they should or should not do is irrelevant. They do do it and a red light's not stopping anybody."

Also appearing on last night's panel included Dr David Caldicott, Chief Superintendent Stuart Smith and drug and alcohol educator, Kerryn Redpath.

Responding to a question from Tony Wood, the father of Anna Wood who died in 1995 from an MDMA overdose, Caldicott said what pill testing ultimately aims to do is "stop people putting pills in their mouth".

"If somebody in a similar circumstance were to come to us and to have a substance analysed and we were to find out, say it was just MDMA, they would still nevertheless have a conversation about what MDMA can do to you on its own and it would be far more than they would have was there not pill testing there. 

"This is the safety net. This is the last chance that a potential consumer of a drug has before consuming that drug."

Last night's episode comes as the ACT government announced it would run a second pill testing trial at Groovin The Moo this April.