The Australian Medical Association formally backed supervised pill testing trials over the weekend, coming to line with almost every other major health body in the country in endorsing the harm reduction method.
The AMA had previously supported a pill testing trial via president Dr Tony Bartone, but published a formal endorsement on Saturday to nail down the importance of at least giving it a go.
“The AMA strongly backs pill testing trials, but they must be medically supervised, involve suitably sensitive testing equipment, and be supported by the State and Territory government,” said Bartone in a statement.
“The trials must not be in isolation. They must be part of an overarching harm minimisation strategy.”
Bartone called for less focus on policing and instead a turn towards interventions that can reduce harm.
Pill testing will not completely solve the problems associated with illicit drug consumption by young people at music festivals, but it does provide an avenue for opportunistic engagement with health professionals, drug and alcohol counsellors, and highly-trained peer educators.
In 2019 you’d be hard-pressed to find a health body that didn’t back pill testing trials in Australia.
So far the AMA, the Public Health Association Australia, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Royal Australian College of Physicians, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, the Australian Nursing Midwifery Association, the National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, and the Public Health Association of Australia. Hell, I probably missed a few.
If your brain just glazed over reading that list here’s the short of it: a lot of medical bodies want the nation’s governments to know that pill testing trials are A-OK, friendo.
And that’s a big deal.
In the past, governments have relied on these health bodies to help defend policy positions and to gain insight onto what’s good and what’s bad about developments in the health space. So what gives? Why aren’t politicians snapping in half under the pressure of experts demanding pill testing trials? I don’t fuckin’ know, my dude!!!
Having just won the NSW state elections this weekend, Gladys Berejiklian will remain Premier – and with that comes the knowledge that her policies will probably stay in place too. That means enforced lockout laws, punitive festival licensing regimes, and no pill testing trials.
Last year, Berejiklian called pill testing a “green light to take drugs“, even going so far as putting together an “expert panel” on how to make festivals safer. She told them before they even met that pill testing was a no-go.
However, in January the premier softened her stance, saying the government would consider it if she was shown evidence it saved lives. This came around the same time the RACP wrote an open letter to the Premier imploring her to reconsider her hardline stance.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has previously stated there will never be pill testing under a government he leads, but he has been facing pressure to reverse that decision.
Meanwhile, Tasmania’s Minister for Police, Fire, and Emergency Management Michael Ferguson said the Tasmanian government does not support pill testing and certainly won’t introduce any drugs amnesty, after the state’s Dark MOFO event began flirting with the idea of a trial.
Reps from Queensland‘s Labor government have called for overwhelming evidence before they implement any pill testing trials, despite the complaints of Liberal National Party frontbencher (and former AMA president) doctor Christian Rowan.
In Western Australia, calling Premier Mark McGowan‘s approach “tough on drugs” would be an understatement – the dude commissioned a taskforce to write a 294-page report giving recommendations on how the state should deal with issues around drugs and alcohol and then turned around and said his government would not soften its approach to illicit drug use, despite the report recommending a bipartisan Parliamentary Committee.
A quick bit of research will show you that many of our state and territory leaders have been to university, finishing up with degrees like the always solid Bachelor of Arts, or Bachelor of Law, and all the other ones you’d expect – but the one thing none of them have is experience as a doctor or as a health professional. And yet here we are, with handfuls of national health bodies advocating for pill testing trials and only one territory actually doing it.
There are, of course, other MPs with health qualifications. Doctor Kerryn Phelps is the member for Wentworth in NSW and she backs pill testing trials. She was also the first female president of the AMA, has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her service to medicine, and was a big voice when the state was first discussing introducing safe injecting rooms. I don’t know for sure, but it sure sounds like she knows what she’s talkin’ about!!!
So far the only legal and successful pill testing trial has been implemented in Canberra, at last year’s Groovin The Moo festival. The testing will go ahead again this year, and the same doctor helping to run the show there, David Caldicott, is actively trying to petition other parts of the country – like the Northern Territory and South Australia – to do the same.
Until then, we just wait. Maybe some politicians will come on board, maybe some more health bodies will campaign.
If only there were examples of, like, other countries doing it for decades. That’d be cool.