27 February 2023

RACGP backs Queensland pill testing announcement

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has today backed the Queensland Government’s decision to give pill testing the green light.

It comes following the Government announcing that fixed and mobile pill testing sites will be introduced to chemically test illicit drugs to check for the presence of potentially dangerous substances.

RACGP President and Mackay-based GP Dr Nicole Higgins welcomed the decision.

“This is a huge step forward for my home state of Queensland,” she said.

“It’s a reality that despite the risks and illegality, some people will keep taking illicit drugs. We should not stick our heads in the sand and pretend otherwise, instead we should minimise the harm. Pill testing saves lives, including teenagers and other young people at events such as music festivals, and it’s also a fantastic way of engaging with those who are using drugs. Staff at these services can talk to them free of judgment about why they are using drugs and the issues in their lives that might be driving the drug use. It can make all the difference and change long-term behaviours.

“Every time festival season comes around in particular, we learn of young people with their whole lives ahead of them dropping dead from overdoses. It doesn’t need to be this way; we can look at what has worked overseas and, in the ACT, and save lives. From what has occurred in other jurisdictions, we know that many people who submit drugs for testing don’t take them when they find out what they actually contain. Prevention is better than punitive action, a ‘war on drugs’ mindset gets us nowhere. I call on our nation’s leaders to follow the lead of the ACT and now Queensland and introduce fixed and mobile pill testing sites to save lives.”

RACGP Vice President and Queensland Chair Dr Bruce Willett said it was a momentous day for Queensland.

“This is a victory for common sense and evidence-based policy over misguided ideology and a punitive ‘war on drugs’ mindset,” he said.

‘With pill testing sites available, people using drugs including young people at music festivals in Queensland, will be able to access information so that they can make a reasoned and informed decision. When these sites are up and running, people will not be flying blind, they will have somewhere safe to go free of judgment where they can get information and advice. They can also be referred for further help if they need it. This is not about condoning drug use and it does not remove police powers related to illicit drugs, rather it’s about reducing harm. I encourage all people who use drugs to take full advantage of the fixed and mobile pill testing sites, it could save your life.”

RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine Chair Dr Hester Wilson also backed the changes.

“The Queensland Government should be applauded for making this brave decision,” she said.

“A punitive, criminal justice-first approach to drug use, including young people taking illicit drugs, just does not work. All of Australia’s governments, including in my home state of NSW, now have the opportunity to follow Queensland and the ACT and introduce pill testing.

“In 2019 following the deaths of six people at music festivals from drug overdoses, the NSW Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame said that she was ‘in no doubt whatsoever that there is sufficient evidence to support a drug checking trial’. So, enough talk, it’s time for action from the NSW Government. We must put in place the measures that are proven to work and save lives, including pill testing. Leaders in Australia and around the world are recognising that the ‘war on drugs’ is on its last knees, and that it’s time for a new approach. These pill testing sites will be a game changer, at the end of the day – every person’s life matters.”

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