PETER BAUME. Labor shifts on pill testing.

The Labor leadership has announced, if it wins government, that a drug summit will be held at which pill testing will be discussed.  This announcement was made in the run up to a March State election and so is a political action– it will appeal to a lot of younger voters in many electorates.  It is a common sense announcement. It is hoped that a trial of pill testing will follow and that pill testing will then be introduced more generally. 

A previous drug summit, held after the election of a former Labor government, resulted, inter alia, in the establishment of the highly successful heroin injecting room at Kings Cross.  Following this summit, whatever their views about the heroin injecting room, it was the first time that some residents of the area did not have heroin users injecting illegally outside their houses. Kings Cross, as a suburb, appears not to have suffered – in fact it has gained physically as used injecting equipment no longer fouls up the streets and some difficult people go to the injecting room.  It has been possible to avoid drug overdose deaths completely in the injecting room.

The announcement of the drug summit is sensible and helpful to the debate.  The problems of illegal drug use do exist, and a calm and sensible discussion will help what is a difficult situation for everyone.  To gather all the stakeholders in one place and to ventilate opinions is a good idea.  The previous drug summit was conducted well and fairly and then the political management within the Labor caucus was exemplary.

People at music festivals do take pills.  They should not take pills – but they do.  They are our children, our siblings, our grandchildren, our neighbours and our friends.  We wish they did not use pills – but they do.  Telling them to ‘say no’ is naïve and not sensible – it reminds us of King Canute!  Prohibitionist policy is generally discredited anyhow and is increasingly the approach of the old, and is out of keeping with the beliefs and the practices of the young – so, in a sense, this is part of inter-generational conflict.

Pill testing uses only a tiny amount of the pill – and so is acceptable to the user.  It identifies the ingredients of the pills.

We do not want our young people to die from the foolish actions they might take.  If they take pills, then the criminals we force them to go to might not be truthful in what they say is in the pills.  Sometimes they are not taking what they think and too often there are awful consequences.  Pill testing leaves the final moral and practical decision up to the person.  It provides the person with essential and helpful and timely information on which they can base those final decisions.

The Hon. Emeritus Professor Peter Baume AC is a facilitator in Medicine at the University of New South Wales.  He is a physician,  former Senator,  former Minister,  former cabinet Minister,  former Professor of Community Medicine and  former university chancellor.

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5 Responses to PETER BAUME. Labor shifts on pill testing.

  1. Ian Webster says:

    Dear Peter,

    I agree that a Drug Summit with well-balanced evidence and in-put is the way to go.

    I was involved in the Drug Summit of 1999 convened by the Carr Government. It went well and led to much needed injection of funds and setting up of drug treatment facilities, local Drug Action Teams as well as the trial of the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. The Alcohol Summit again organised by the Carr Government produced some important policies, but implementation was poor – especially from the health sector; the police did a better job.

    With ‘pill testing’ on the agenda at a Drug Summit, let us hope the risks faced by young people at these events will be addressed comprehensively. It would be of great interest to know what recommendations were made in the advice to the Premier by – the Chief Health Officer, Commissioner of Police and the Chair of the Liquor and Gaming Authority.

    Thanks for your thoughtful article on this issue.

  2. Mick Shadwick says:

    Professor Baume refers to “the highly successful heroin injecting room at Kings Cross”. I’m not sure about the criteria used to determine success. It has taken injectors and their equipment off the streets. I’ve not seen data on the numbers that might have been saved from overdoses.
    The “success” of the injecting room does not necessarily mean that pill testing will “succeed”. They are quite different matters. Some lives will be saved, but will the lowered risk of drug taking from testing mean that more might take drugs and take more of them, with adverse consequences at the time and maybe further down the track? Is testing on the spot sufficiently accurate and what are the consequences for the testers of faulty advice? I think much more information is needed before a trail would be justified.

  3. James Knight says:

    If I was a trader and my customers:
    a) were knowingly exposed to criminal elements or
    b) were unsafe in my facility

    Then I’d be exposing myself to any number of laws and regulatory punishments.

    So any and all action should be directed – through the planning process and Police – in regulating the activity and saving us from “the criminals we force them to go” to. (ie the event organisers!)

    If they cannot have participants searched and vetted or it is too inconvenient or expensive to do that, then don’t have the event.

    Meanwhile, where are the legal teams suing these concert impresarios?

    Even if “the final moral and practical decision” is up to the person, the promoters and regulatory authorities need to feel the financial sting!

  4. eugenie lumbers says:

    Great article and a wise reminder of the benefits those who do foolish things

  5. Stephen Leeder says:

    Great article from a very wise and experienced health and medical
    profrssional, politician anf advocate.

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