Geelong students campaign for pill-testing at parliament

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YOUTH ISSUES: Geelong College students Henry Rodda, Tom Forshaw, Lachlan Houen, Jonathan Hanson, Bella Miller and Trinity Murphy campaigned for pill testing this week.

By Magy Mekhaiel and Luke Voogt

Geelong students led a push for pill testing at musical festivals during YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament this week.

The six Geelong College students drafted a bill for the state-wide youth forum at Victorian Parliament House in a bid to minimise drug-related deaths.

“We aren’t encouraging drug use,” said Lachlan Houen, a student behind the bill.

“But we believe that the best way for young adults to stay safe is to create safer festival environments.”

The bill includes the establishment of a Drug Association for Harm Minimisation including medical professionals, law enforcement and youth workers at festivals.

The students hoped mandatory pill-testing booths would help festival-goers understand the contents of pills they planned to take and their effects on their body.

The group believed drug testing at festivals would encourage organisers to be more open and transparent towards having life-saving conversations.

“This bill passing means that if my friend needs help at a music festival, I will not be afraid of speaking out and getting them the assistance they need,” said student Bella Miller.

Pill testing at a Canberra festival last year found less than half of MDMA (ecstasy) samples contained relatively pure amounts of the substance, according to a Safety Testing Advisory Service report.

The testing identified some harmful toxic contaminants in other drugs, including a substance that caused the hospitalisation of 13 people in New Zealand that year.

Several revellers also discarded their drugs after testing, the report said.

But Australian drug-prevention advocate Shane Varcoe said pill testing normalised drug use at festivals.

The executive director of drug education charity Dalgarno Institute warned pill testing gave users a false impression their drugs were safe if they contained no contaminants.

He cited a Drug Free Australia report that stated 82 per cent of 82 ecstasy-related deaths in NSW between 2001 and 2005 occurred due to MDMA.

The remainder resulted from disease or injury where MDMA was a “significant contributing factor”.

More recently coroners implicated MDMA in all five NSW music festival deaths over the 2018-2019 summer.

State Government had “no plans to allow for pill-testing at events in Victoria”, a spokesperson said.

“Advice from Victoria Police tells us it can give people a false, and potentially fatal, sense of security about illicit drugs.”

Since 1987 YMCA Victorian Youth Parliament has provided a forum for people aged 16 to 25 to debate issues, with twenty of its bills going on to become Victorian legislation.

This article originally appeared on the Geelong Indy, July 5, 2019

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