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Pills and Policies: NSW Ministers Push for Safer Drug Use Measures 

A blurred picture of a dancefloor

In February of this year, Queensland became the first Australian state to introduce pill testing, but will NSW follow suit? Daneie Geddes explores the current legislation, and whether we can expect to see pill testing implemented in NSW any time soon.

Motivated by the roll-out of pill testing earlier this year in Queensland, NSW Ministers are ramping up efforts to push for the implementation of similar measures.

Queensland recently became the first state in Australia to introduce pill testing and took what some say, a “brave” step away from outdated “1950s drug policy”.

NSW Ministers are now calling on the Labour government to follow suit in a “nationwide movement’’ toward safer drug use.

Youth and Homelessness Minister Rose Jackson told an international conference that NSW was falling behind other states on the issue of drug reform and called on both sides of government to support a trial of the policy.

“The reform is supported by medical experts, the industry and perhaps most importantly, the families of the young people who have tragically died because our current drug laws are not working,’’ she said.

Jackson is not the only cabinet member advocating for drug law reform, with other members also voicing their support for the necessity of change.

Transport Minister Jo Haylen places emphasis on redirecting drug-related harm as a health issue, not a criminal justice one.

“When we sort through the evidence that has been laid out for us by experts, all signs point to decriminalisation. We cannot arrest our way out of the problem,” she said.

Currently, NSW legislation falls far behind the global standards for drug-related matters, with pill testing being implemented in both the UK and Europe for over a decade.

A report released by Pill-Testing Australia found the introduction of pill testing at one UK festival in 2016 reduced drug-related hospitalisations by 95% compared to the previous year’s festival.

Data also collected in 2015 by the Canadian organisation ANKORS found that, of those accessing pill testing services in Canada, one-third (31%) of individuals were more likely to dispose of their substance upon receiving test results.

Former NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet firmly held anti-pill testing views and was unwavering in his stance on the matter.

“My clear message to people right across NSW [is] stay safe, and don’t take drugs and you will be safe.”

Emergency doctor and CanTest program architect David Caldicott criticised those comments saying, “It’s aspirational, but it’s not realistic”.

“For the people who aren’t using drugs, that’s a great message. When I go and talk at my kid’s primary school I always say you shouldn’t use drugs. That’s a good message. But is it an effective message to the people who do use drugs? No. Because they are already using drugs.”

“If we want to reduce the number of people who die from drugs that will require some different policies certainly than what you have in NSW. There is a credibility gap which exists in Australian politics and unfortunately it looks like one that a lot of politicians aren’t concerned about crossing.”

Newly elected NSW Premier Chris Minns holds a more open stance on the idea and has pledged to organise a “Drug Summit” that will adopt a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach towards addressing matters concerning drug use, abuse, supply and treatment.

So, is pill testing likely to be seen in NSW? At this stage, no.

Minns has already ‘changed his views’ on other drug related reform, including the legalisation of cannabis, and has made comments pushing back on the opinions of other cabinet members.

“We’ll make the decision about drug law reform and any other policy changes in NSW. MPs are entitled to their view but it’s collective decision-making,” he said.

As the debate continues, it is clear that the introduction of pill testing in NSW is a topic that will be closely monitored by policymakers, healthcare professionals and the wider community.

With public health and safety at the forefront of the matter, NSW ministers continue to put pressure on the subject, keeping it at the forefront of debate.  

“Get our state back on track in exploring evidence-based policies that recognise problematic drug use is best managed as a health issue, not a criminal justice one” – Rose Jackson, Youth and Homelessness Minister. 

Feature Image by Maurício Mascaro, via Pexels

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