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Speech: Pill testing saves lives

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 18 Sep 2018

In my state of New South Wales, two people tragically died and 15 others were hospitalised from suspected overdoses at the Defqon 1 festival over the weekend. My heart goes out to their families. As a mother of two young people, I can't imagine a more heartbreaking situation. I can't help but think that maybe the situation could have been quite different if pill testing or checking was available at the venue. My blood really does boil that we will never know, because the only thing stopping the harm minimisation approach to pills is a stubborn New South Wales Liberal-National government. The New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, 'I don't want to see this ever happen again, young lives lost for no reason.' In the same breath, she had the gall to completely rule out pill testing despite the overwhelming evidence of harm reduction, despite the queues of health professionals lining up to say that we can do this differently, despite the fact that pill testing saves lives.

Premier, the prohibitionist status quo is hurting people and you sit on your hands knowing you can do something to stop it yet you choose not to. On the news the New South Wales police spokesperson said, 'It would not be a good look for the police or government to support pill testing.' We have tragic deaths happening and police and politicians are thinking about whether or not pill testing is a good look? And that's exactly the problem. Where is the political courage? Where is the leadership? Where is the commitment to evidence based policy? There is clear evidence that punitive, heavy-handed, law-and-order approaches to drug use do not work. They will not stop people from taking dangerous substances at festivals. Shutting down music festivals might make you feel better or perhaps placate the right-wing shock-jocks whose approval you're so desperate for but it won't save lives.

Moralism has never worked. It never will. People will continue to take drugs whether or not we like it and no matter how many dance festivals you shut down. It is undeniable that the war on drugs has comprehensively failed. It has failed families, it has failed young people, it has failed the justice system and it has failed the taxpayer. Our job is not to lecture, but to do everything we can to reduce harm. We know that it can be done.

The first successful pill-testing trial was held at the Groovin the Moo festival in Canberra in April. The trial, run by STA-SAFE consortium saw 128 participants have 85 samples tested, with 50 per cent of the pills having other substances while 50 per cent were pure MDMA and two of the samples were potentially deadly. This isn't rocket science but it definitely is fair dinkum science. Pill testing provides information to people who are going to take drugs. It allows medical professionals to come face to face with drug users, to give them advice on substances they're intending to take and explain their options to them. It may not stop all drug deaths from dodgy pills but it will go a bloody long way. There is no evidence that pill testing would increase drug use. International evidence shows that pill testing is a proven harm reduction tool but, time and time again, death after death, the New South Wales government and other governments across the country sit there with their fingers in their ears, terrified of being accused of being soft on drugs. So here is a plea to them: if you really care about saving people's lives, get out of the way. You have clearly abrogated your responsibility to protect young people so let the experts get on with the job of saving lives.

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