Australia Today

Canberra’s Free Pill-Testing Service Shows Most Ket Isn’t Ket

“There’s a storyline that drug users don’t care and they're reckless and don’t give a shit about their own health, but it’s just not true.”
A person cutting into a pill

Canberra's free and confidential pill-testing service — the only one of its kind in Australia — has been so popular it has been extended beyond an initial six-month trial to at least 12 months. 

The service, CanTEST, was launched by Pill Testing Australia and the ACT Government in July 2022 to allow anyone to anonymously bring drugs in to check what’s actually in them. 

CanTEST has already screened hundreds of samples and found that almost a quarter did not contain what users expected them to. 


The most common drugs brought into CanTEST were MDMA, ketamine, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. Or, at least that’s what people thought they had. 

Ketamine was the drug least likely to be what people thought it was — only 45 per cent of samples expected to be ketamine actually had any ketamine in them. 

21 per cent of ket samples were in fact different illicit substances entirely and 30 per cent came back as “unknown”. 

The second and third least likely drugs to be as described were MDMA and methamphetamine. Just 73 per cent of both MDMA and meth samples were what users thought they were, followed by cocaine at 75 per cent and heroin at 86 per cent.

The majority of users who found out their drugs weren’t what they thought they were decided to bin their bags. 

“There’s a storyline that drug users don’t care and they're reckless and don’t give a shit about their own health, but it’s just not true,” president of Pill Testing Australia Gino Vumbaca told VICE. 

“Most people do, they know what they’re doing and they know it can be risky, so they want to mitigate some of that risk.”

An independent interim evaluation report on CanTEST, published on Friday, suggested that by providing users with more information, the service may be influencing behaviours and conceptions around drug use.


“Service users’ reported likelihood of using the drug/s after receiving the test results varied considerably according to whether the results aligned with the drug they thought it would be,” the report said.

“For those where results did not align with the expected drug, the majority reported that they ‘definitely will not’ use the drug.”

The report also noted that for 62 per cent of service users, it was their first interaction with a healthcare professional about drug use. 

“The lack of information for people who consume illicit drugs just ridiculous, really,” Vumbaca said.

“And it’s not [users’] fault. Often people buy drugs from someone they know, who knows someone, who’s got an older brother, who’s got a cousin — so it’s gone through so many hands … no one actually knows what’s in it.”

He said a lack of information, or misinformation, about drugs was “the nature of the market” that operated in the dark, and that the people who most disliked pill-testing services were senior politicians and drug dealers.

“All of a sudden the pressure goes onto them to not produce and sell products that are dangerous or not what they purport to be,” Vumbaca said.

Pill Testing Australia has approached every Australian jurisdiction with offers to set up testing facilities in recent years, but so far only the ACT is on board after successful trials at Groovin’ The Moo music festival in Canberra. 

Vumbaca said that, contrary to long-held views in Australia which have accused pill testing of being a “green light” to drug use, the method didn’t encourage anyone, and was actually making some stop to think about the best course of action for their health and wellbeing. 

“It’s actually an amber or a red light [to drug use],” he said.

“What it says is ‘pause’. Before you take that, talk to this team of health experts. How is that a green light?”

Aleksandra Bliszczyk is a Senior Reporter for VICE Australia. You can follow her on Instagram here, or on Twitter here.