Pill testing: The time is now


Pill testing Gladys

I dropped my first pill when I was nineteen. 

It was at a club in Fortitude Valley and I was partying with people I’d only known only a short time. We don’t talk anymore.

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“We’re gonna get some pingers,” one of them said. “Do you want any?”

I’d grown up around drugs; I knew the risks. I’d witnessed first-hand the way they changed the people I cared about and turned them into strangers. But at that moment, I didn’t care. I let my curiosity get the better of me.

“Sure,” I said, butterflies bashing my insides. I took the pill without hesitation and I liked it. I’m not sure what I took that night. All I know is I had fun, danced all night, and went home unscathed. Not everyone is that lucky.

Naturally curious

Six young NSW festival-goers have died over the last year after ingesting deadly substances. One of them was barely eighteen.

I often think about the night I took my first pill, the elation I felt as I unzipped my dress on the dance floor so the guy I was dancing with could admire my rib tattoo.

I think about the girl I winked at as I was leaving the bathroom and I wonder if they knew I was high. Who knows? Maybe they were too.

As young people, we want to experience things in ways we might not have considered before. We’re curious about our bodies and want to understand what they can do and feel.

So, when someone offers us drugs, we are privy to the experience.

We don’t often consider what we might be taking. We just take it.

I did it because I felt safe.

Everyone I was with knew I was on drugs. Heck, they helped me get them and watched as I downed the tiny white pill in the corner of a leather booth under dim lighting.

I never thought about the risks that come with taking only one pill.

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My guess is the six people who lost their lives earlier this year didn’t either.

As young people, we hear about drug overdose but in my experience, it was generally taught that it occurs after long exposure to those drugs.

They teach us ‘not even once’ as a way of educating students about just how addictive they can be.

We don’t get the ‘even just taking a drug once can kill you’ lecture.

The prevention is all about long exposure. So then, what do we do for the short-term?

A new initiative

There’s been a lot of talk in the country recently about pill-testing and whether it should be permitted at music festivals.

Up until this point, there has been a zero-tolerance of drugs being brought into and taken at these types of events.

Often, police are accompanied by sniffer dogs that frighten attendees into either taking drugs before they enter the festival grounds (like Alexandra Ross-King who died shortly after) or sneaking them into the venue any which way they can.

I used to work with a lovely young man who told me about his experience sneaking pills into festivals up his backside — an unpleasant experience, but one that let him get high in the porta-loo provided.

Police often patrol the venues, selecting young people at random and strip-searching them in a room out back somewhere where they’re told to squat and cough.

Some of those selected have been underage —122 since 2016 — and have been humiliated, unlawfully stripped and denied the right to have a guardian notified and be present.

Many of those searched were not in possession of any drugs, but what we do know is people are still bringing them in. People are still taking them. And people are still dying from them.

As it stands, young people feel as though they can’t embellish their curiosities about drugs.

They feel like they have to hide the part of themselves that wants to indulge in experimental behaviour because they will get into trouble, be chastised, humiliated or persecuted against.

But, let me say this: we’re still going to take drugs. Next time will just be sneakier about it.

It’s time now to start a conversation; time to open the door to honesty and education.

It’s time we start pill testing.

Pill testing works

The concept of pill testing is not new.

Of course, in Australia to some of our youth, it might sound revolutionary, but like many things in our great country (things I won’t get into right now), we are backwards on this.

Pill testing has been used in the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, and even in Scott Morrison’s bumchum nation, the U.S. The world has an abundance of pill testing agencies and guess what? They’ve been effective.

Pill testing was introduced in the UK in 2016, a period in which the nation was reporting the highest number of festival-related incidents on record. Hospitalisations were reduced by 95 percent.

In Switzerland, harm-reduction service, Saferparty have been substance testing at venues since the early 2000s.

It’s been reported since Saferparty’s introduction, there have been no ecstasy-related deaths.

The Drug Information and Monitoring System (DIMS) in the Netherlands has been active since 1992 and in 2014, they discovered a lethal batch of pills.

The discovery led to a nationwide broadcast on all platforms which notified the country of the deadly substance.

There were zero deaths. The batch, however, made it to the UK where four people died from consumption.

Pill testing in Australia

Back in March, Pill Testing Australia (PTA) trialled pill testing at South Australia’s Groovin’ the Moo festival and it was a massive success.

They tested over 700 substances and found 7 that were deadly.

The possessors of the deadly substance disposed of their drugs in the amnesty bins and went about their business as normal.

You know why? Because young people don’t want to die.

We just want to go out and have a good time with our buddies, sleep it off and go back to work on Monday.

The NSW government has a hard and backward stance on pill testing in Australia.

Earlier this year, premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Q&A there’s not enough evidence to suggest pill testing works.

Obviously, we know that isn’t true. Berejiklian is backwards and so is her government.

They want to dictate to us and scare us into thinking we’re out of options.

But what they’ve been doing: strip-searching, detaining, using sniffer dogs, it’s not working. It’s not working, and young people are dying.

Of course, we know drugs are bad.

We know there are risks involved but you’re not protecting us by allowing us to remain uninformed.

Right now, is the time for education.

Right now, is the time to start a conversation.

We’re young, but we’re not stupid.

Let us take control of our lives while we still have them.

Let us pill test.

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