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Expert Alert: is pill testing the answer?

La Trobe University 3 mins read

Dr Thomas Norman  
Research Fellow, at La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society in Bundoora.  

Contact E: M: 0439 403 414 

Alcohol and drugs researcher with experience running public health studies at music festivals and similar ephemeral drug use settings.  

Topic areas: 

  • Motivations and risks of illicit drug use at festivals 

  • Harm reduction interventions and policy options 

  • The science behind pill testing/substance checking.  

  • The success of existing pill testing services in Australia and overseas.  

Quotes attributable to Dr Thomas Norman  

“While there are several measures to minimise drug-related harms already in effect at music festivals, we are still seeing worryingly high numbers of adverse health events. It is time to rethink our approach to keeping people safe.” 

“The implementation of pill testing services in Victoria would align us with the approach of Australia’s other public-health oriented drug policies.” 

“Substance checking services aren’t a silver bullet or a whole substitute for the many other existing ways we minimise drug-related harms, but they are another tool to improve real people’s health and lives. It is not an endorsement of illicit drug taking, but a means to connect people with health professionals, offer advice and support, and change risky behaviour.” 

“It is also important to consider the flow on effects that drug testing can have on black markets. If drugs are verifiably problematic, they tend to drop out of the market; that is good news for everybody.” 

Senior Research Fellow at La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society in the Drugs, Gender and Sexuality program in Bundoora.  

Contact E:  

Topic areas: 

  • Young people’s party drug use (including motivations for consumption and friendship dynamics)  

  • Youth drug education (including how to address issues like fun associated with drugs)  

  • Young people’s scepticism of education/health promotion messages  

  • Overdose and efforts to address overdose.  

Quotes attributable to Dr Adrian Farrugia  

“While drug checking or pill testing won’t address all the harms connected to an unregulated drug market, it’s a service that provides potentially life-saving information to those who use it.” 

“Drug checking or pill testing is a pragmatic strategy to reduce the potential harms associated with some forms of drug consumption. Refusing to provide people, who consume drugs, with as much information as possible may contribute to the tragedy of overdose.” 

“Drug checking or pill testing services also generate long-term data about the different substances in the drug market and information that can be used to inform early warning systems for people who may be considering taking a drug.” 

“The knowledge and expertise to successfully provide drug checking services is available now. The success of pill testing in the ACT, for example, led to the establishment of the CanTEST service in Canberra. Other researchers and service providers in Australia, and many working internationally, could be brought together to develop a similar service in Victoria, and potentially save lives.” 

Dr Gabriel Caluzzi  
Postdoctoral Research Officer at La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research  

Contact E:  

Research focuses on the social attitudes towards drug checking/pill testing among different groups of people and the overall support among Australians.  

Latest research paper: Majority support for drug checking services  

Quotes attributable to Dr Gabe Caluzzi  

“Drug-checking has received multiple recommendations from experts to be trialled, including recent coroner’s reports from Victoria and New South Wales.”  

“While different states and territories have taken varied stances on drug-checking, we know that the majority of Australians actually support it.” 

“Public support is a key factor for policymakers if they look to roll this out in their own jurisdictions.” 

“Drug-checking is a pragmatic approach to reducing the harms from drug use that is well supported by Australians.” 

Dr Nyssa Ferguson  
Research Officer in La Trobe University’s Department of Public Health  

Contact E:  

Research is focused more on opioid overdose and in particular, the training and distribution of take-home Naloxone (a drug that reverses opioid overdose).  

Quotes attributable to Dr Nyssa Ferguson  

“I am in favour of the implementation of drug testing services. It is an excellent way to reduce overdose and provide an early warning system for harmful drugs in circulation,” Dr Ferguson said.  

“This is just one of the many things that needs to be done to prevent accidental overdose in our communities.”  

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