You're Not Protecting Young Lives If You Look The Other Way On Pill Testing

We have now lost five young people in less than five months.

The death of Alex Ross-King last weekend has only heightened the despair and frustration felt by the community, including the Premier, who has said that the tragedy tears her “to shreds”.

Whilst her words probably come from a genuine place, it’s difficult to reconcile them with the fact that her position up to now has been extremely disappointing.

This is the Premier who assembled a Live Music Safety Panel to look at ways to reduce deaths at live music events, but then discounted the evidence on pill testing.

L to R: Alex Ross-King, Diana Nguyen, Joseph Pham, Josh Tam and Callum Brosnan have all died in over the last five months after after taking substances at music festivals.

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This is the Premier who has repeated the same tired ‘Just Say No’ rhetoric, every time another young person has died.

And this is the same Premier who asked for evidence that pill testing saves lives, has been given that evidence, and has seemingly discounted that information. 

Alex Ross-King, 19, died after taking a drug suspected to be MDMA at a Sydney music festival over the weekend. (Image: Facebook)

As for the evidence, it speaks for itself.

Pill testing saves lives.

In 2014, the official pill testing service in the Netherlands found a lethal batch of pills in circulation, triggering a widespread warning campaign. There were no deaths. In the UK, where there was no service in place at the time, four people died from this same lethal batch.

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Elsewhere, harm reduction workers in the Swiss city of Zurich have reported that, since pill testing was implemented in the city, there have been no ecstasy-related deaths.

Pill testing reduces hospitalisations.

In 2016, pill testing was rolled out at a festival in the UK. That year, drug-related hospitalisations at this festival fell from 19 the previous year to one that year, a total reduction of 95 percent.

Groovin The Moo festival in Canberra had Australia's first successful pill testing trial in April this year. Credit: Mitch Ferris / Groovin The Moo Facebook.
Pill testing reduces drug use.

Data collected in Canada in 2015 found that, of those accessing pill testing services, nearly one-third  (31 percent) discarded their drugs when results showed they contained harmful chemicals.

UK service The Loop and North American service DanceSafe reported significantly high discard rates -- between 25 and 100 percent -- of substances that yielded an unexpected test result.

And a recent survey of attendees at electronic dance music events in New York City found that, if pill testing was an option, a majority would be less likely to use ecstasy if it was found to contain adulterants such as ‘bath salts’ or methamphetamine (54.8 percent and 54.3 percent respectively).

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This is the evidence that the Premier asked for, and that she has received.

The ball is now firmly in her court.

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She has said she wants to look for every opportunity to reduce deaths. Why not pill testing? Why is she ignoring Alex Ross-King’s family, who have called on her to show strong leadership and introduce a trial in New South Wales?

We commend the Ross-King family for their courage, and stand with them in the face of such a loss. To the Premier, we say, listen; not only to the families, and the community, but to the evidence. Pill testing saves lives.

The NSW government is under increasing pressure to introduce pill testing at music festivals after the recent deaths of five young people. (Image: Getty)

So we want to appeal directly to the premier:

We know you’re in a tough spot, but the community is calling on you to use all available power to you and do what you can, so you will be remembered as the leader who not only saved lives, but prevented the terrible grief now suffered by too many families.

The moment is not tomorrow, it’s not a few months away at the election, that moment is today.

Matt Noffs is the CEO of the Ted Noffs Foundation. Shelley Smith is the Campaigns and Policy Coordinator at the Ted Noffs Foundation. Both are members of the Take Control campaign.