Application flagged for legal pill-testing at Groovin the Moo

Application flagged for legal pill-testing at Groovin the Moo

The consortium behind an aborted pill-testing trial at last year's Spilt Milk music festival has given formal notification to the ACT government of a new trial planned for Groovin the Moo.

A spokesman for Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris confirmed the wheels were in motion for a second attempt to legally pill-test in the ACT.

The wheels are in motion to pill-test at this year's Groovin the Moo festival.

The wheels are in motion to pill-test at this year's Groovin the Moo festival.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

"The ACT government has been notified by the STA-SAFE Consortium that they intend to submit a proposal to conduct pill testing at the Canberra Groovin the Moo festival in April 2018," a spokesman said

"Should the STA-SAFE Consortium present a proposal to conduct a controlled trial at the Groovin the Moo festival, the ACT government will consider the proposal on its merits.


"Any proposal would need to be accepted by the University of Canberra, where the festival will be held."

A spokeswoman from the University of Canberra said they had not yet received an application for the trial.

Attempts to legally pill-test at the Spilt Milk music festival last November were thwarted because of an apparent dispute over authorisations.

The ACT government had approved the landmark trial but Spilt Milk was held at Commonwealth Park, which is under the control of the National Capital Authority.

Groovin the Moo will be held in April at the University of Canberra, which is on land controlled by the ACT government.

Legalised pill testing has never been done before in Australia but the ACT government conducted an in-depth review of overseas models used and set up a whole-of-government working group to investigate a trial.

The spokesman for Ms Fitzharris said the government was committed to minimising the harms associated with recreational and illicit drug use and would continue to pursue harm reduction measures.

"The very clear message from the ACT government is 'don't do drugs'," a spokesman said.

"Pill testing is a harm reduction intervention which offers free analysis of the chemical composition of substances surrendered for testing."

The academic behind the model the STA-SAFE Consortium will use said contaminated and mis-sold drugs were even more of a problem in Australia and New Zealand than in the UK, where her research found one in five samples weren't what customer thought they had bought.

Co-founder of The Loop, Professor Fiona Measham has seen boric acid and malaria tablets sold as cocaine, plaster of paris sold as ecstasy tablets, and pentylone analogues sold as MDMA in pill, powder and crystal form.

"About one in five people, when they hear the results, give us further drugs that they have in their possession that they no longer want to take, for us to hand over to the police for destruction," Professor Measham said.

"The police, the medics, and also users themselves are all happy that these drugs are taken out of circulation so it's win-win."

Professor Measham helped develop drug safety testing at a time when UK drug-related deaths were the highest they have ever been, with 63 ecstasy-related deaths in 2016, and six festival deaths.

"At UK festivals we have seen a significant drop in drug-related medical incidents and hospitalisations over the last 2 years at events where the Loop has provided a testing service. So we would hope that the same could happen here if we were to test drugs on site and inform everybody of the contents," Professor Measham said.

"No-one knows the contents of illegal drugs circulating on site at a leisure event and it is in everyone's interests to find out, to alert the public, to monitor trends and to respond as best they can to reduce the harm that they might cause."


Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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