A dose of re­al­ity on pill test­ing by doc­tors

The West Australian - - NEWS - Cathy O’Leary and Nick Evans

Pill test­ing at mu­sic fes­ti­vals is not a magic bul­let and could have dan­ger­ous, un­in­tended con­se­quences, ac­cord­ing doc­tors.

Aus­tralian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion WA pres­i­dent Omar Khor­shid said that no mat­ter how pill test­ing was mar­keted as not con­don­ing drug use, the mes­sage could be that it was ac­cept­able.

“Pill test­ing is not the magic bul­let to pre­vent deaths of young peo­ple from drug over­doses at fes­ti­vals, and there is a sig­nif­i­cant con­cern about send­ing a cou­ple of wrong mes­sages, in­clud­ing that tak­ing th­ese drugs is OK and we’re not tak­ing as hard a line on it,” he said.

But the head of one of Aus­tralia’s lead­ing drug re­search bod­ies says that, while “quick and dirty” test­ing at fes­ti­vals is not the an­swer, the in­tro­duc­tion of a com­pre­hen­sive early warn­ing sys­tem about dan­ger­ous drug batches would save lives. Pro­fes­sor Steve All­sop from Curtin Univer­sity’s Na­tional Drug Re­search In­sti­tute said he sup­ported a “high qual­ity” trial of fes­ti­val pill test­ing, but it would not cap­ture most drug users who took sub­stances in homes and night­clubs.

“It’s im­por­tant we in­vest in a pill-test­ing trial to see where it works, and whether there would be any un­in­tended ad­verse out­comes,” he said.

The drug pol­icy ex­pert told The West Aus­tralian a bet­ter ap­proach would see all drugs seized by law en­force­ment fully an­a­lysed, with the in­for­ma­tion used to warn doc­tors and the pub­lic about dan­ger­ous batches, rather than just as an aid to pros­e­cu­tors.

Dr Khor­shid said any pill test­ing regime would have to be de­vel­oped and eval­u­ated care­fully. But his big­ger con­cern was that quick on-site tests were ba­sic, check­ing for a lim­ited num­ber of sub­stances, and more com­pre­hen­sive test­ing would take days or weeks.

“The more con­cern­ing mixed mes­sage is that a pill could be con­sid­ered by a user as safe, be­cause it’s had a neg­a­tive re­sult for some­thing, but the drug could still be dan­ger­ous in terms of psy­chi­atric harm or death,” he said.

Pro­fes­sor All­sop said he was also con­cerned that “cheap and nasty” fes­ti­val test­ing could be mis­lead­ing, but said a broader ap­proach would help save lives.

He pointed to last year’s mass over­dose of back­pack­ers on pre­scrip­tion drug hyoscine, which took au­thor­i­ties a day to iden­tify, say­ing dis­tribut­ing the re­sults of lab­o­ra­tory anal­y­sis of seized drugs could help pre­vent a re­peat in­ci­dent.

UWA pro­fes­sor of ad­dic­tion medicine Gary Hulse said he sup­ported a trial of fes­ti­val pill test­ing in prin­ci­ple, but said it must be de­liv­ered along­side ed­u­ca­tion about the risks of sub­stance abuse.

Pill test­ing is not the magic bul­let to pre­vent deaths. Dr Omar Khor­shid

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