Australia’s Second Pill-Testing Trial Found High Purity Drugs and Deadly Substances

Organisers of Canberra's Groovin the Moo festival are labelling the trial an "overwhelming success" after seven people dumped pills containing dangerous adulterants.
April 29, 2019, 1:34am
Ecstasy pills and pill-testing

The second pill-testing trial at Canberra’s Groovin the Moo music festival has been hailed a success, with more than 230 people using the service and seven dumping pills containing a potentially deadly substance. Those pills displayed traces of n-ethylpentylone, a synthetic stimulant belonging to a family of cathinones or “bath salts” which can reportedly cause side-effects such as hyperthermia, seizures, arrhythmia, hallucinations, and death. All festival goers who were told their drugs contained the substance dumped them in provided amnesty bins, the ABC reports.


Organisers said that demand for the pill-testing service had more than doubled since they first trialled it at Groovin the Moo last year, with 171 substances being tested during this year's event, compared to 85 at last year’s. Most of those substances were MDMA, as well as cocaine, ketamine, and methamphetamine. But while previous trials found that many of the drugs were low-purity and contained adulterants, purity levels at this year’s event were unexpectedly high.

"There was an awful lot—86 per cent of what we tested returned positives for really rather high purity ecstasy or MDMA," said Dr David Caldicott, an emergency medicine specialist who also works for Pill Testing Australia, the company behind the trial. Caldicott pointed out that users who were told their drugs were high purity often responded by saying they would take less of it or not take it at all. He also expressed some concern over the number of pills testing positive for n-ethylpentylone.

"We only found one of those last year, so that's clearly becoming established in the market,” he said.

“The pilot was again overwhelmingly successful by any measure, but particularly by doing everything possible to keep our kids safe,” said Pill Testing Australia’s Gino Vumbaca, as reported by SBS. “We helped reduce drug-related harm by giving young people access to a medical service they would not have had otherwise.”

Despite such "overwhelming success," however, both Caldicott and Vumbaca confirmed that it would be the last free trial to take place in the Australian Capital Territory. "I think the data required to make a formal assessment on whether it works or not will be more than adequate after two free trials," Caldicott said, while Vumbaca explained that they’d like to continue testing drugs in the ACT but couldn’t do so on a self-funded model.


The ACT is the only state or territory in Australia to allow pill-testing, and Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris said the state government would welcome similar trials in the future, The Canberra Times reports—but Pill Testing Australia has not approached them for funding. The consortium is currently looking into several other potential funding models, including public subscriptions, promoter-based funding, and crowdfunding. But Caldicott stressed that charging the festival goer to use the service was never going to be an option.

"We will never charge the punter. This is a healthcare intervention and we are trying to encourage young people to learn a little about the stuff they are putting into themselves," he declared, noting that "there is some dialogue that says 'why should we be supporting someone's drug consumption habit'. You already are. The difference is the payment that you're making is in taxpayer dollars towards the treatment of the overdoses.

"This is a health issue and we should be approaching it as such."

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