RANZCP supports the introduction of pill-testing trials for harm reduction

22 January 2019
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) recognises the public health benefits of pill-testing services as part of a harm reduction approach to drug policy in Australia and New Zealand.
RANZCP President, Dr Kym Jenkins said: ‘We believe there is sufficient evidence currently available to justify the introduction of carefully designed pill-testing trials around Australia’.
‘We call on governments to review the growing evidence base and work with clinical experts within the field of addiction and other public health physicians to minimise the harmful effects of drugs on the community and help prevent further tragedies.
‘It is time to implement and thoroughly evaluate new evidence-based measures that prioritise health and safety, especially for those vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations, including young recreational drug users’, said Dr Jenkins.
The RANZCP acknowledges that there are diverse views on this contentious and highly debated topic in Australia at this time.
Pill testing, or drug checking, allows people to anonymously submit samples of illegal drugs for forensic analysis, and provides individualised feedback of results and counselling as appropriate.
The detection of pills that contain lethal substances before consumption is particularly important in light of several recent deaths as a result of pills being consumed in social settings including music festivals, nightclubs and parties.
Chair of the RANZCP Faculty of Addiction Psychiatry, Dr Shalini Arunogiri said: ‘There are pill-testing services available in several European countries and the RANZCP supports access and availability of similar programs in Australia and New Zealand’.
Research indicates that there is a strong demand for these services in Australia.
An Australian study conducted from 2005 to 2008 demonstrated that 44% of music festival attendees had used illicit drugs in the last month.[i]
Significantly, the evidence suggests that when most people are told their pills contain substances that they do not want to ingest, or are of unknown content, they report that they would choose not to take the pill.[ii]
The research also indicates that drug users who use testing services do not use more drugs than those who do not,[iii] and the prevalence of drug use does not appear to be higher in countries that have drug-checking systems in place.[iv]
Dr Arunogiri emphasised that pill testing also provides public health authorities with data on substances in the drug market.
‘This information can be applied in health promotion strategies and can support the identification and removal of hazardous drugs from the market.
‘There are some drawbacks to pill-testing services, including cost and the limitations of particular tests which may lead to individuals having a false sense of security, believing that the use of a tested substance is safe.
‘As such, pill-testing services should include clear acknowledgement and communication of these limitations, and should aim to use sophisticated equipment that improve accuracy’, said Dr Arunogiri.
‘Every form of substance use carries potential risks so pill testing should be nested within services that provide confidential and accurate interpretation of test results and educate individuals about potential risks.
‘However, harm reduction strategies are designed to reduce rather than eliminate the harms associated with particular activities, and to improve the health outcomes for people who use harmful substances’.
The RANZCP supports the careful introduction of legislative changes to allow people with illicit substances to utilise pill-testing services. This would require the cooperation of law enforcement bodies.
Pill testing is an example of an evidence-based, tried and tested method of harm reduction that could save lives and prevent the suffering of family, friends and communities.
ENQUIRIES: Andy Newton at media@ranzcp.org or +61 437 315 911
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is a membership organisation that prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments on mental health care. For information about our work, our members or our history, visit www.ranzcp.org.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au or the Suicide Callback Service on 1300 659 467 or www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au.
[i] Lim MS, Hellard ME, Hocking JS, Spelman TD, Aitken CK (2010) Surveillance of drug use among young people attending a music festival in Australia, 2005-2008. Drug Alcohol Rev. 29(2):150-6.
[ii] Johnston J, Barratt MJ, Fry CL, Kinner S, Stoove M, Degenhardt L, George J, Jenkinson R, Dunn M, Bruno R (2006) A survey of regular ecstasy users’ knowledge and practices around determining pill content and purity: Implications for policy and practice. International Journal of Drug Policy. 17(6):464-472.
[iii] Benschop A, Rabes M, Korf D (2002) Pill testing, ecstasy and prevention: A scientific evaluation in three European cities. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Rozenberg Publishers.
[iv] European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2016) European Drug Report 2016: Trends and Developments. Luxembourg: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.