'We went to Iraq on less evidence': Q&A panel clash over pill testing
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'We went to Iraq on less evidence': Q&A panel clash over pill testing

The pill testing conundrum came to a special episode of Q&A on Monday night, and amid a contentious debate it fell to former Federal Police chief Mick Palmer to own the night in a few simple words.

"We went to Iraq on less evidence than what we've got about pill testing," Palmer declared to applause, affirming his long-stated support for trialling of a policy that is perhaps rivalled only by climate change when it comes to the nonsense parroted by the non-believers.

To extend Palmer's analogy, were you to put the pill-testing opponents in charge of the Department of Defence we'd still be running around Iraq looking for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

This is not to say the anti-testing brigade don't have good intentions. That doesn't mean they make much sense.

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In the No corner on the panel was Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith - Nancy Reagan in a NSW police uniform, asserting variations of the "Just say no" theme with ever-less convincing degrees of credibility.

Opposed to pill testing, he nonetheless affirmed support for the Kings Cross injecting room. "Our feeling, in terms of the New South Wales Police, we have always supported the injection clinic."

Tony Jones wondered: "The principle in a sense has already been broken by the NSW Police in that you do turn a blind eye to heroin users going into the safe room in Kings Cross. You don't arrest them coming in with heroin or coming out possibly with heroin and stoned. So that principle is already in place. The police, by an agreement, have decided not to arrest those people. What is different in principle here?"

The head of the injecting room, Dr Marianne Jauncey, was on hand to explain how that particular slice of legal hypocrisy works.

"We have a specific amendment to the drug misuse and trafficking act legislation… there's a little piece of NSW where it's not a criminal offence to be in possession of a small quantity of drugs for your own personal use."

And the results?

"There's been an 80 per cent reduction of ambulance callouts to heroin overdoses in the local neighbourhood," Jauncey said.

Pill testing pioneer Dr David Caldicott.

Pill testing pioneer Dr David Caldicott.Credit:ABC

"The local community, both residents and businesses, have always supported the establishment of the service and that support has gone up over time. If you're actually faced with it… when people are forced to face up to reality, I think that's often when we take our head out of the sand."

With Palmer and Jauncey on the pro-testing side of the panel was Dr David Caldicott, pill testing pioneer through his Australia-first trial at the Groovin the Moo festival. Caldicott's other area of expertise: his ability to remain serenely calm as he bangs his head against a brick wall trying to get his message across.

In a nutshell: pill testing saves lives.

"There has been some recent research from the UK for example, which suggests hospital attendances are down… 95 per cent from what they were when pill-testing is applied. We know… young people at those festivals consume fewer drugs, fewer people consume drugs and they mix their drugs less frequently. Each of those is an independent risk factor for death."

In the audience, and opening the debate with questions, were two parents.

Adriana Buccianti, whose son Daniel died at a festival seven years ago and who supports testing: "How much longer do we have to ignore the evidence and the will of the people?"

And Tony Woods, whose daughter Anna died in 1995: "Drugs are idiosyncratic so how would testing them save lives? It won't."

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There was also audience member Gulliver, described as "a festival goer".

Gulliver wanted to know: "Why is there no one on the panel who'd actually be in a position to use a pill testing service - where's that voice? It's like having a debate about gay marriage and no one on the panel actually identifies as gay."

In lieu of that, we did have Kerryn Redpath, a former drug user who opposes pill testing and who dived in head first when discussion turned to the Portugal experience: drugs decriminalised, drug use and drug harm down.

Redpath: "I had a boarder from Portugal and he said it's rubbish."

Inadvertently letting the cat out of the bag, Assistant Commissioner Smith was asked whether emulating the Portugal model would "make your life a lot easier."

Smith, cracking wise: "Well, we'd solve a lot more homicide, I guess."

It was enough to make you reach for a legal drink and a legal cigarette and ponder that in the time the program about pill testing was on air, one Australian had died from booze and a couple more from the fags. Cheers!

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