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A.C.T. Government announces intent for permanent pill testing site

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Pill testing would allow users to know exactly what they were about to take, potentially saving young lives (Screenshot via YouTube)

The A.C.T. Greens have made a progressive move towards drug decriminalisation and treating drug use as a health issue, writes Chris Mordd Richards.

THE A.C.T. IS SET to potentially trial a fixed location pill testing site in the city this summer in a bold move to address the health issue of pill taking, without trying to arrest their way out of it.

The A.C.T. Greens proudly announced on Thursday 20 August that they ‘have secured a commitment from A.C.T. Labor to explore a permanent pill-testing site in the A.C.T. this summer’.

This would be an Australian and an A.C.T. first, building on the success of two previous trials of pill testing facilities at music festivals in Canberra, specifically at Groovin the Moo, as IA has previously reported on.

A.C.T. Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said on Thursday at the announcement:

The A.C.T. Greens are pleased today to have secured a commitment from our government colleagues to extend pill-testing from only music festivals to a more regular weekend service in the city, this summer, informed by expert health advice.

 

The reality is, people don’t just take pills at music festivals. A routine pill-testing site will continue to build on the success of previous pill testing trials at music festivals here in the A.C.T. and help keep more young lives safe.

 

 This decision today means that over the coming summer, as we look to potentially eased restrictions, we’ll be able to provide more supports so that young people can experience less harm as a result of recreational drug use.

IA spoke with Andrew Braddock, the Greens candidate for Yerrabi in the 2020 A.C.T. Election, about how the trial might work in practice:

“The aim is to start this plan over this summer, the exact starting date is yet to be determined but it would aim to commence in 2020. It will run for a period of months over the summer period, which tends to be the period that pill-taking increases.”

The facility would be open Friday through Sunday, to cover the busier weekend period when pills are more likely to be used, although the exact hours it would be open on those days is still to be decided.

When asked what kind of staffing mix would work at the centre (such as nurses, social workers and counsellors), Braddock said:

“We have a commitment that there will be public health staff there, what the exact skillset looks like has not been determined. There would also be other staff from partners such as NightCrew, who already have a pop-up facility providing services to those with alcohol inebriation.”

It has not been determined either if the A.C.T. would purchase their own expensive testing equipment to use at the facility, although the nature of the trial strongly suggests the Government would attempt to lease or hire instead of purchasing outright if that was possible and more cost-viable.

On the question of an arrangement with A.C.T. Police regarding an amnesty zone around the clinic so punters aren’t arrested specifically on their way to get a pill tested, Braddock said:

We’ve already had very good cooperation with the A.C.T. Police in terms of their conduct for pill testing at the festivals, we would look to be able to continue that in terms of this new permanent facility.

 

The exact nature of what that might look like would probably be very similar to what was currently in place at the festivals, however that will still need to be sorted out with the police.

In terms of the potential location of the testing centre, Braddock says there have been initial suggestions to locate it near the current NightCrew operations, by Civic Bus Station Platform #8. This is still to be determined, however, like the other details.

The A.C.T. Greens have advocated for a routine pill-testing site as a health service for many years now.

It is a coup indeed to have convinced A.C.T. Labor to come on board with the initiative after many years of lobbying, although the upcoming A.C.T. Election in October is clearly weighing on the Government’s mind in making this decision at this particular moment.

More details on this announcement are not available yet until after the A.C.T. Election and are entirely dependent on A.C.T. Labor forming government again and going ahead with an exploratory phase ahead of the actual trial taking place.

The Canberra Liberals are yet to respond to this announcement in terms of whether they would also support such a trial if they were to form government for the first time in 19 years in the A.C.T. after this election.

This commitment is set to be a vote winner among 18-30+-year-old voters in the A.C.T. among those most likely to be taking pills. It might even attract some Greens voters to vote Labor instead to ensure this does go ahead under a re-elected Labor Government.

Whether the Federal Government would seek to interfere somehow, as they have previously threatened over the legalised cannabis legislation in the A.C.T., is also unclear at this stage.

What is clear is that the A.C.T. is leading the pack in terms of drug decriminalisation and treating drug use as a health issue, not a criminal issue.

The rest of Australia will surely be watching the experiment keenly to see what can be gleaned from it, just like when the first injecting room was opened in Kings Cross all those years ago.

You can follow Chris Mordd Richards on Twitter @Mordd_IndyMedia.

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