Review by researcher calls for pill testing to be part of Australia's Drug Strategy

April 9, 2018, BioMed Central

On-site testing of 'party drug' pills could reduce the harms caused by drug use and potentially save lives, according to an independent review of Australia's National Drug Strategy, published in the open access Harm Reduction Journal.

Dr Andrew Groves at Deakin University, Australia, examines evidence in support of testing to reduce fatalities caused by 'party drugs' such as ecstasy and methamphetamines, at festivals, clubs and raves. Pill testing involves party-goers having a sample of their drugs tested on-site by scientists and experts. They then receive information about what is in their drug, with the option of keeping the drug or anonymously handing it over.

Dr Andrew Groves, corresponding author, said: "The most surprising finding of our research is that the evidence has clearly identified the inadequacy of existing punitive, zero tolerance strategies across several countries, and yet such policies often remain embedded in government legislative action. While we still need further evaluation of how best to implement pill testing and other harm reduction initiatives, the evidence suggests that they are useful and there is widespread support from the community and practitioners in the field. The debate must be about harm, rather than criminality."

In the review, the author evaluated examples of drug policies around the world, including Portugal, where the government has implemented pill testing, as part of much broader policy reforms including the decriminalisation of the possession of drugs. This led to drug use being viewed as a public health concern, rather than a criminal issue and reduced problematic drug use and its related harms.

The researcher analysed another example of pill testing: Austria's chEckiT project. In this project, users were presented information on the quality or purity of their drug. If presented with a negative result, two-thirds of users reported that they would not consume their drugs and would also warn friends against taking them. A similar project in the Netherlands found that pill testing did not increase the use of party drugs, which is often perceived as a risk of such initiatives.

Dr Groves said: "Although considered radical at the time, these measures have been effective in reducing the harms associated with illicit drug use, and problems for drug users and the wider community. The examples evaluated in this study support the idea that party-drug use requires pragmatic, evidence-based initiatives, such as pill testing, rather than criminal justice responses."

In data from recent literature, the author found evidence of increased consumption of more potent forms of 'party drugs' such as MDMA and 'ice'. The author suggested that, in addition to the surveillance and monitoring efforts carried out under the current National Drug Strategy in Australia, pill testing could provide further data on the quality and content of the drugs people use and that it could be useful for monitoring changes in the drug market. Pill testing data could provide more accurate information than current techniques, such as wastewater analysis, which could inform users on how to reduce drug-related harms and help authorities to influence the drug market. For example, the Netherlands' Drug Information and Monitoring System, which used data from pill testing to accurately identify drug content, purity and potency, informed national warning campaigns, which has pushed dangerous, low-quality substances out of the market.

Dr Groves said: "We are calling for further collaboration between law enforcement and healthcare providers to ensure that they take appropriate action to reduce the harm caused by drugs. It is important to focus on prevention, public awareness campaigns and education to shift cultural attitudes, so that use of party drugs is identified as a issue rather than a criminal one."

The author stressed that although pill testing cannot eliminate the harms of drug use, and cannot be used as a stand-alone solution, it could be a vital part of wider harm reduction strategy. The author noted that there is a need to ensure evidence-based approaches that are targeted, appropriate and cost-effective, and that will lead to reduced harms associated with illicit drugs.

Explore further: Six reasons Australia should pilot 'pill testing' party drugs

More information: Andrew Groves, 'Worth the test?' Pragmatism, pill testing and drug policy in Australia, Harm Reduction Journal (2018). DOI: 10.1186/s12954-018-0216-z

Related Stories

Six reasons Australia should pilot 'pill testing' party drugs

November 12, 2014
The death of 19-year-old Georgina Bartter at a music festival on the weekend from a suspected ecstasy overdose could possibly have been avoided with a simple harm-minimisation intervention. Pill testing, or drug checking ...

Drug use can have social benefits, and acknowledging this could improve rehabilitation

April 2, 2018
Illicit drug use is often framed in terms of risk and antisocial or criminal behaviour. But drug use is often a highly social activity. For many people, the pleasure of using drugs is about social connection as much as it ...

Managing drug risks at youth music festivals

April 18, 2016
Education and harm minimisation strategies such as pill testing should be considered as a means of reducing the most risky behaviour of illicit drug use at large music and youth festivals, a Flinders University public health ...

Unintentional drug use continues among molly users in EDM party scene

September 13, 2017
Electronic dance music (EDM) parties have historically been high-risk scenes for use of a variety of psychoactive substances. Studies over the past couple of years have found nightclub and festival attendees report high rates ...

Decriminalisation of drug use a sound and pragmatic public health policy

August 11, 2016
Decriminalisation of personal drug use and possession not only saves public money, it has significant public health benefits, according to a report prepared by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at UNSW.

Revellers ready for festival drug checks, study finds

January 19, 2018
A study of the attitudes and behaviours of young people at music festivals found that a majority were in favour of drug checking, and would reconsider taking a drug if they were aware of its contents.

Recommended for you

Smoking cessation: A genetic mutation involved in relapse

October 4, 2018
Why is it so difficult to stop smoking? Why do some people relapse months after giving up? Scientists from the Institut Pasteur and the CNRS, in collaboration with Sorbonne University and Inserm, have demonstrated that a ...

Study shows cigarillo flavors enhanced by high-intensity sweeteners

October 3, 2018
In a new study, Yale researchers found that popular brands of cigarillos are flavored with high-intensity sweeteners, potentially reducing the aversive sensation of smoking and making cigarillos more palatable. The concern ...

Leading addiction experts call for more neuroscience research on long-term recovery

September 24, 2018
September is addiction recovery month, and, in the midst of the current opioid epidemic, it's an apt moment for addiction research experts to map the future path forward for a long-term recovery strategy for substance abuse. ...

The connection between alcoholism and depression

September 21, 2018
Alcoholism and depression often go hand-in-hand.

Quitting junk food produces similar withdrawal-type symptoms as drug addiction

September 20, 2018
If you plan to try and quit junk food, expect to suffer similar withdrawal-type symptoms—at least during the initial week—like addicts experience when they attempt to quit using drugs.

Low academic achievement can lead to drug abuse decades later, research finds

September 13, 2018
A Virginia Commonwealth University researcher has found that poor academic achievement can lead to substance abuse. Data collected from Swedish participants over a period of 15 to 20 years indicate a strong correlation.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.