As you might know, Canberra’s edition of Groovin the Moo recently provided a free drug testing service, allowing punters to decide whether or not they’d like to eat drugs that could kill them. And unsurprisingly, two samples of potentially lethal drugs were identified.
Chief among them was a sample containing n-ethylpentylone, a synthetic stimulant of the “bath salts” variety. According to KnowYourStuffNZ, the drug first surfaced in 2016 in the US but hadn’t yet been identified here.
“Within five minutes of that result, I’d called the chief health minister of the ACT and let him know it was in the territory,” Dr David Caldicott told VICE on Sunday.
In the US, n-ethylpentylone has been shown to cause high blood pressure, convulsions, and muscular deterioration. The drug’s toxicity in conjunction with alcohol is virtually unknown, along with the concentration required for overdose. In short, the drug is a liability and identifying it Sunday quite possibly saved lives.
But saving lives isn't everyone's cup of tea, and three notable critics have spoken out.
The most vocal among them was talkback radio host Steve Price, who unloaded on the Project on Monday night. He went up against Matt Noffs, a drugs expert with treatment service Harm Reduction Australia, who explained that police were willing to try a more “enlightened” approach.
“I’d hardly call police ignoring drug use enlightened but if that’s what you want to stick with, that’s fine,” Steve shot back. “We have laws. Drugs are illegal. We can’t just have the police going around ignoring the law.”
Matt Noffs tried to suggest that parents simply telling their children to not take drugs has never worked, adding: “It hasn’t worked for a hundred bloody years."
“It’s worked with my children,” Steve retorted. “They don’t take drugs.”
Another outspoken fan of the just say no approach has been NSW Police Minister Troy Grant. He reiterated this position via a spokeswoman in the Australian: "We strongly urge people not to take illegal drugs… No test can guarantee the safety of an illegal drug or its effect on an individual."
Troy Grant had previously made his anti-pill testing position clear after a man died at a Queensland rave. In 2017, when asked whether pill testing could have prevented the man’s death, Grant replied it would have only provided a “false sense of security.”
“It’s an illegal drug because it is dangerous, it is likely to kill you or cause irreversible harm,” he told 2GB. “There’s certainly going to be no investment by the New South Wales Government in a quality assurance tool.”
Also, there was that time back in 2016 that he told Fairfax: "What you're proposing there is a government regime that is asking for taxpayers' money to support a drug dealer's business enterprise—that's not going to happen in New South Wales while ever I'm the minister."
Apparently Troy’s position hasn’t softened in the years since.
The last bit of condemnation came from 2UE broadcaster and Sky News presenter Paul Murray on Monday. He described the message being sent via pill testing as “insane” and the notion of harm minimisation as “bullshit”.
“You can say the words ‘harm minimisation’ as many times as you want to,” he told viewers, “but supplement those words with ‘drink driving’ or ‘abuse’ or ‘illegal weapons’ and the logic doesn’t stack up… The idea that ‘Lets find a safe space for people to do something that’s illegal’ is insane.”
And at cursory glance, Paul might be right, except that society has deemed drink drivers criminals. In 2018, the Australian public is increasingly reluctant to treat high teenagers as criminals, nor to believe that such behaviour warrants the death penalty.