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NSW Government Says No to Pill Testing at Music Festivals


Pill Testing

The New South Wales Government has been in the spotlight recently for their policies on pill testing at music festivals.

The NSW Premier has made her lack of support for pill testing clear, citing an absence of scientific evidence to show pill testing will stop deaths. Certain media reports have refuted this citing scientific research from other countries. 

There are increasing arguments for pill testing, including that it may reduce the number of people who ingest harmful substances they believe are MDMA or ecstasy. This would certainly be a positive thing, however pill testing will not always achieve this. The reality is that it can be MDMA itself which kills – Anna Wood died from the effects of MDMA in 1995, her three friends who took the same pills did not. Sadly, it can’t be said that pill testing would have prevented this.

The pill testing that is proposed merely identifies whether the pill has a particular substance in it, for example MDMA, ecstasy or methamphetamine. It does not test the concentration of the drug and it cannot predict how the particular person may react to the substance. Underlying heart conditions, excessive heat, not enough water or an adverse reaction to the drug itself or another component of the pill can all result in serious illness, injury or even death.

The Criminal Lawyers at Armstrong Legal often are served with evidence of purity of drugs by police. It’s commonplace for the purity of the drug to come in at less than 50%. In many cases it’s as low as 5-10%. In these cases, other chemicals or substances have been “cut into” or mixed in with the illicit drug. Sometimes these substances are things like Panadol or other prescription drugs. Other times, the substances can be much more harmful and may include poisons.

While pill testing may stop people from consuming their tablets or capsules that have no MDMA or ecstasy in them, it won’t necessarily warn them if there is another harmful substance mixed in. It also doesn’t test the consumer for underlying medical conditions and it can’t predict adverse reactions. This doesn’t mean the idea should be scrapped or disregarded, however. If pill testing saves a single life then it will be worthwhile. This is particularly so if it’s implemented with strategies to educate people intending on taking drugs as to the health services available and potential risks of drug use. One of the primary concerns with pill testing and the reason why critics say it should not be implemented is because of its ability to create a false sense of security. Imagine if pill testing had existed in 1995 and poor Anna Wood’s pill was tested and found to contain MDMA, the result would, tragically, have been the same.

Written by Trudie Cameron on January 30, 2019

Trudie combines her impressive skills in advocacy and legal analysis with a focus on her client's interests and wellbeing. Her experience working for senior barristers prior to starting at Armstrong Legal gives her a unique insight into criminal advocacy and practice. View Trudie's profile


2 thoughts on “NSW Government Says No to Pill Testing at Music Festivals”

  1. Michael Kaissis says:

    Agreed- to an extent. Underpinning your article is the need to look at the strength of pills. I think testing the strength of the pills will have more of a chance to eventuate if pill testing is introduced. Clearly, pill testing will not completely eliminate the deaths at festivals. However, if the strength is tested then consumers may be more strategic in consuming their pills i.e half now; half later and reduce fatalities. Your point about other factors is valid as well but how do we tell people if you have a heart concern don’t take stimulant drugs! Did you hear about the Dr who want to legalise and distribute MDMA through chemists/pharmacy???

  2. Bruce Carter says:

    I totally agree with your point of view Trudie, and concisely spelt out the risks. I believe Pill testing may save a life or 2 but it risks reinforcing and making dangerous behavior more acceptable and that can create more damage and deaths in the long run

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