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Health – Pill Testing

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Monday, 6 June 2022

Tags: Pill Testing, Health

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, this an old issue; and I'm hoping that now that you are Premier and Minister for Health that you will find an opportunity to reconsider the position that we've taken as a state of having pill testing as a harm reduction measure. You would be very familiar with the comments that we've made over years about the evidence of the efficacy of pill testing as a harm reduction education measure.

The recommendation from the New South Wales Coroner, on the back of six deaths between 2017 and 2019, that pill testing should be introduced at all music festivals and the great work that was done in the ACT at numerous festivals there, getting the evidence of the effectiveness and showing that young people when presented with the reality of what is in the things they are thinking of putting in their mouth, overwhelmingly choose to bin them. That is about saving lives first and foremost. This needs to be essentially a commitment to reopen this conversation. All of the will and all of the capacity is there in Australia for Tasmania to be able to provide these services at festivals. It would just be a great thing if we could just move on and include it as part of our harm reduction suite of measures for drugs.

Mr ROCKLIFF - While this is probably more appropriate in the Mental Health and Wellbeing side of the portfolio, I am happy to answer it.

Pill testing is an issue on which opinion is divided right across the community. We have been clear in the past that is not something that the Tasmanian Government supports at this time. What we can all agree on, of course, is that we want our festival goers to be safe and that is what the Government will focus on for future festivals. I remember the lead up to a 2019-20 summer; a lot of work was done and I was in discussion with Ms Morgan-Wicks and others about supporting our young people at these festivals. Pill testing is one measure that can be used to improve the safety of patrons at festivals.

As I have alluded to, the department committed to improving health outcomes at music festivals and has previously provided support to Tasmanian festivals to minimise harm from consumption of drugs and alcohol. The Government, through the Department of Health, worked successfully with the festival organisers behind The Falls and Party in the Paddock in the past, with the establishment of a safe space tent and increased resources. This is something that we may consider doing again in the future, if that is appropriate. Of course, no Tasmanian Government support to music festivals was required in 2020, as all major Tasmanian festivals were cancelled due to COVID-19.

Key areas of the Department of Health have been diverted to the COVID-19 response and no work has progressed in the department in the absence of major festivals being held in Tasmania. I note however that the Party in the Apocalypse was held in Launceston in December 2021 and Hobart in March 2022. While at this stage we don't currently support pill testing, we will continue to consider evidence on the matter as it emerges. Implement any pill testing in Tasmania would require complex policy and legislative framework development. There is a bit of work to go through yet. I know it's been a long-standing policy and commitment of the Tasmanian Greens and you've been speaking about it for some time.

Dr WOODRUFF - It's very disappointing, on behalf of all of the wider community organisations that are pushing for this. It's all RACGP, emergency medicine, AMA, ANMF, Ambulance Union, and the Public Health Association.

There are so many who support this now, and it really is a case of moving on past the ideology. It was never popular to take the sorts of approaches that Australia did in the AIDS epidemic. If it wasn't for injecting drug support, and the needle and syringe exchange - that was contentious at the time, but that saved lives. The coroner was really clear this can save lives. There is nothing like the personal, one-on-one information to a person actually looking at what's in the thing they are about to put in their mouth. All the pamphlets and conversations will go nowhere.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I am happy to look at the evidence in support, and base our decisions on that. I was President of an organisation called Youth and Family Focus in the late 1990s early 2000s. Needle availability programs were quite contentious at that particular time. I remember arguing publicly at that time, in favour of needle availability programs, because the organisation I was Chair of, provided that service. It was very contentious, and very contentious with local business providers. We stuck to our guns, because clearly evidence was there to support that.

Dr WOODRUFF - I will keep providing the evidence, and sending it to you.