NSW Govt Dismiss Calls For Pill Testing In Four Corners Drug Law Investigation

16 February 2016 | 1:35 pm | Staff Writer

The calls are only getting stronger.

Despite a growing amount of support, the NSW Government have refused to budge on their stance against calls for pill testing in ABC's Four Corners investigation into drug laws, Dying To Dance.

While a number of doctors and former police heads have said the time has come to implement the initiative at dance festivals and public events following news that Australians are the biggest users of ecstasy in the world, Deputy Premier of New South Wales Troy Grant has said the government is entirely against the idea.

"Pill testing will not save a life," Grant said.

"A pill testing regime may well tell you what’s in that pill, but it has no way to tell you whether it will kill you or not and that’s been demonstrated by the national oversight committee in the Netherlands where they've had 14 deaths in my understanding in 2014, where they do have a pill testing regime."

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However as reporter Gold Walkley-winning journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna noted in the story which aired last night, the institute that released that particular report told Four Corners that Grant had "misread" the material and described his comments as "wishful thinking, simplistic and rash".

In the last 12 months, seven young people have died from suspected use of ecstasy, while six of those deaths have occurred at music festivals. 

More than 800 users were admitted to emergency in New South Wales alone, double the amount from six years ago.

President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Dr Alex Wodak, said that if given the green light, pill testing could commence this year. 

"When you look at the arguments authorities trot out for why they can’t allow pill testing in Australia, they are so weak," Wodak said.

"I would be embarrassed to say things like that myself and yet the politicians trot out this nonsense. This law enforcement effort is not only not effective, but is actually harmful and I've come around to that view that it’s actually made a bad problem worse; that the focus on drug law enforcement has been an expensive way of achieving failure."

Meanwhile, Toxicologist at the ANU College of Medicine, Dr David Caldicott, argued that pill testing will change the conversation of drug use in Australia altogether. 

"What it does, is by presenting consumers with simple facts about what’s in their substance, we can engage in a discussion that is based on the science of the hazards, rather than the morality of the hazards of their behaviour," Caldicott said.

"But the important thing is disrupting that decision to consume the pill at that point."

However, Grant refused to entertain the idea, insisting it would only benefit dealers.

"What you’re proposing there is a government regime that is asking for taxpayer’s money to support a drug dealer’s business enterprise," Grant said.

"That’s not going to happen in New South Wales while I'm Minister."

Statistics from Victorian Police, obtained by Four Corners, revealed that some pill contain doses of MDMA varying from 5-60% in each pill, though this information is not shared to the public. 

"It's woeful," Founder of pillreports.com, Johnboy Davidson said. 

"We don’t know until someone ends up in a body bag, we don’t know there’s a problem. That’s our major problem. The people collecting the data are mostly the police and they don’t share it with anyone. The police want to do the right thing but they’re hamstrung most of the time by politics."

Elsewhere in the investigation, Meldrum-Hanna spoke with young drug users who believe that the increasing price of alcohol has made the idea of 'party drugs' more enticing.

"One pill is $20 and it will last you four hours of just, not even thinking about what you’re doing, just having fun, where as alcohol, we pay $8 for a bloody schooner of beer these days," one user said. 

When questioned on the idea of pill testing, another supported it, saying, "If you’re going to take the risk and take that sort of stuff than you should know what you’re having."

"We're in the 21st century and if the Government thinks that people are going to stop taking drugs…they're kidding themselves…because this isn't going away."

So if they want to say that 1 or 2 people dying at a festival is a good win, well I reckon their fucking idiots. I think there needs to be a different approach completely…And lets stop targeting the user, how about you target the dealer if you’re really serious?"

Watch the full episode here.