ACT News

Greens push for pill testing scheme in the ACT

The ACT government won't consider establishing a pill testing scheme to improve safety for drug takers in Canberra, rejecting a push by the Greens on Tuesday.

Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury said recent media coverage and deaths related to drug use in the ACT showed a pill testing scheme could improve safety by allowing drug takers to receive anonymous information about the chemical make-up of particular pills.

The ACT Greens have called for a pill testing scheme in the ACT.
The ACT Greens have called for a pill testing scheme in the ACT. Photo: Viki Yemettas

Mr Rattenbury's office began work on the issue in 2015. He said ABC TV's Four Corners program had this week shown about 400,000 young people currently used recreational drugs in Australia, while the number of deaths and hospitalisations resulting from drug were rapidly increasing.

Australia's $40 million spent on drug harm reduction and about $1.2 billion spent on law enforcement had not solved the problem, Mr Rattenbury said.

"While the ACT doesn't have the same number of music festivals and events as other jurisdictions, there is still a significant drug scene in Canberra and it is an issue we need to address."

"We need to equip users who are not listening to current warnings with information about what they are putting into their bodies so at least they can make informed choices, rather than putting their lives in the hands of drug dealers they have never met."


He called for the ACT to lead "a multi-pronged" pill testing pilot proposal that included maintaining drug prevention messages; increased police resources and a review of harm reduction approaches when people have decided to use drugs.

"A pill testing trial could involve an approach whereby the individual anonymously provides a small shaving of their pill for analysis in a mobile testing station that would determine its chemical make-up, allowing the user to be better informed about the substance they are about to put into their body," Mr Rattenbury said.

The results could also be used to boost policing and health by providing reliable data on new drugs in the market place.

Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said the opposition wouldn't support a pill testing scheme in the ACT as it "would probably make it easier for drug dealers ply their trade".

"I think there are a lot of unintended consequences," Mr Hanson said. "We have to have a clear message that there is no safe level of drug consumption and we don't want these sorts of drugs proliferating."

Asked if he would change his stance in the face of expert support, Mr Hanson said he accepted "there was a range of opinions."

"When I look at this, and I've looked at what other jurisdictions have said, my view is this is not something that we would support," he said.

A spokesman for Health Minister and Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the government would not pursue pill testing. 

"The ACT is a small jurisdiction with a limited music festival scene. It would be more appropriate for any trial to take place in a jurisdiction with a larger number of music festivals."

NSW deputy premier Troy Grant also ruled out a scheme across the border, citing similar programs in Europe. 

"Pill testing will not save a life," Mr Grant told the ABC.