ACT News

Canberra doctor behind push for pill testing trial at music festivals

A leading Canberra doctor behind a plan to roll out a private pill testing trial at music festivals believes it could persuade up to 60 per cent of people who use the service not to take potentially dangerous drugs.

Fairfax Media revealed on Sunday that Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation president Dr Alex Wodak and Canberra physician Dr David Caldicott planned to run the trial at Sydney music festivals without police or state government approval, potentially breaking the law.

The controversial service, which would allow festival-goers to submit their drugs for testing at music venues would "save people's lives", Dr Caldicott told The Canberra Times.

The Canberra-based emergency doctor and senior lecturer in medicine at ANU said that drug checking actually changes behaviour of users.

"We could run the trial tomorrow, find out what drugs are on the market now and persuade 60 per cent of consumers not to take their pill," he said.

Advertisement

"It's the only intervention that's ever been shown to actually stop people using drugs at the point of consumption."

Dr Wodak and Dr Caldicott said the trial would take place in NSW without or without the government's permission.

NSW Police oppose the trial and premier Mike Baird has refused to state a position on the issue despite commissioning formal advice.

"It is a sad and sorry situation where doctors are forced into this position where they have to entertain the possibility of being arrested for trying to save people's lives and it's a terrible indictment of any political system," Dr Caldicott said.

A private pill-testing trial would not be illegal in the ACT but would require co-operation from festival organisers, venue owners, insurers and law enforcement.

The ACT government is unlikely to support such a trial, with Chief Minister Andrew Barr saying it was not a "government endorsed" approach.

"The ACT Government is committed to its harm-minimisation approach to illicit drugs, and is constantly looking at ways to better reduce harm, reduce supply and reduce demand," he said.

"However, it is not a government endorsed approach – and the possession of illicit drugs remains an offence within the context of a harm minimisation approach."

But Dr Caldicott said the proposed trial was firmly based on harm minimisation principles.

"A war on drugs is an ideological construction that flies in the face of everything we know about young people, which is that they like to use drugs so the only thing that we really should be persuading them to do, as doctors, is to try to keep them alive while we try to persuade them not to use drugs. That's what harm minimisation is all about."

Earlier this month, Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury called for the ACT to lead a "multi-pronged" pill testing pilot proposal.

Dr Caldicott said medical professionals and politicians in the ACT had been "far more receptive" to a discussion around the pros and cons of a pill-testing scheme.

He said the NSW trial, which would "take the laboratory to the music festival", would be funded through crowdfunding and philanthropy. It was expected to cost $50,000 - $100,000.

- with Eamonn Duff

Advertisement