Page 5461 - Week 14 - Thursday, 30 November 2017

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MS FITZHARRIS (Yerrabi—Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Minister for Transport and City Services and Minister for Higher Education, Training and Research) (5.11): It is an interesting debate. I thank Minister Rattenbury for his motion today. This is an important issue because the harms from illicit drug use are far reaching and affect not only individuals but also their families, especially, and the broader community. Addressing these harms is complex and requires a multifaceted response, drawing on the best available evidence of what works. The ACT government remains committed to preventing and reducing the harms associated with illicit drug use.

Pill testing is an important harm reduction measure that has been used effectively internationally for many decades. It is currently being delivered in approximately 20 countries in Europe, the Americas and New Zealand. Experience from these countries demonstrates that pill testing can help to reduce harm at events where illicit drug use is prevalent, including at music festivals. While pill testing has not been conducted in Australia, there is support for trialling the initiative. In a recent national survey, 94 per cent of respondents reported that they would use a pill testing service located at a festival.

Overseas evidence suggests that pill testing at festivals can reduce overall drug taking and show significant reductions in the harm to those who do consume illicit drugs. A recently published review of pill testing at eight festivals in New Zealand showed that testing led to festival patrons making more considered and safer decisions. Importantly, 63 per cent of patrons indicated that they did not intend to take the drug when they learned what it contained and that it was not what they had expected. This is an important point that I will return to later, particularly in light of Mr Hanson’s speech.

In addition to helping keep people safe, pill testing allows useful information to be gathered about illicit drugs. This information can help public health authorities to predict trends in drug use and enact early warnings when dangerous or toxic substances are found to be circulating. In some circumstances, pill testing can also help health professionals to treat patrons who may be experiencing an overdose more efficiently and effectively.

It is important to note that in considering a pill testing trial the government is not softening its approach on drugs. It remains illegal to possess, manufacture and distribute illicit drugs in the ACT. In the government’s message on the day we announced that a pill testing trial would take place, I was very clear that there is no safe way to take drugs but we do not have our heads in the sand. We are committed to keeping our young people safe and we know from experience from both here and overseas that a purely punitive approach to drug policy simply does not work. In some cases in our region we see a purely punitive approach. We have seen the extremes of this approach in our region in the Philippines recently.

As members are well aware, on Friday 22 September 2017 the ACT government announced that a pill testing service would be available during the Spilt Milk festival. This announcement was made following careful consideration of the evidence,

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