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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