Pill testing isn’t a silver bullet but it will save lives

The recent article by Andrew Leibie appears to be the latest installment of his views about drug use and drug policy. However, his use of a straw man argument is both disappointing and disingenuous. The advocates of pill testing have never claimed that it is the silver bullet to stop young people dying from the problems of taking pills and other currently illicit drugs. It is one part of a broader approach to drugs to reduce the range of health, social and economic harms that the current approach inflicts of people who use drugs and their families.

Mr Leibie also claims that the UK has not been able to stop all overdoses on pills despite having pill testing in place. Unfortunately, he does this without mentioning the extremely limited number of venues the program operates within and its relatively recent introduction (by the organisation the Loop) – which make any claims of its success or failure based on national figures simply ridiculous.

Source: Energy Control

His article also demonstrates either a misunderstanding or an attempt to mislead by confusing the shortcomings of take home reagent test kits with the on-site testing proposal with highly accurate equipment such as a mass spectrometer. The reality is that advocates for pill testing have been stymied in their attempts to even establish a trial of pill testing in Australia. In response, some have reasonably advocated for the distribution of take home reagent test kits. This is not the preferred option but it is the only legally available option and in the eyes of most rational people, better than the option of doing nothing. And this is where Mr Leibie’s advice is difficult to understand. It seems to be that because we cannot provide a complete and full reading of every active ingredient and potential reaction from the consumption of the pill at the event or venue then we should provide no information at all. In essence, he is advocating for a Just Say No approach. A discredited and harmful approach to drug use which in the end is simply a Hobson’s choice  – that is, don’t use any drug or use it and we will offer you no information because we can’t give you every detail you may need.

Source: Energy Control

Some with knowledge in this field also challenge the assumptions made by Mr Leibie on the time it takes for results to be available. While others question whether protecting a market in workplace drug testing is an issue that should be addressed.

In the end, it is difficult to understand any rational or scientific based approach to policy that opposes a trial to test the efficacy and effectiveness of a program in Australia that has already been evaluated to deliver positive outcomes in other countries for many years.

Gino Vumbaca, President of Harm Reduction Australia

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