Pill testing support continues to rise but it remains illegal in most of Australia

A pill testing demonstration before 2019's Groovin the Moo. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
A pill testing demonstration before 2019's Groovin the Moo. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Pill testing has been a contentious topic among politicians for a number of years but new research shows almost two-thirds of the population now supports the method that evidence has shown to be an effective drug harm reduction strategy around the world.

A new study by Australian National University researchers has found 63.4 per cent support pill testing compared with 21.6 per cent who oppose it, marking a nearly 10 per cent increase in support from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

The results found there was a correlation between pill testing backers and support for the legalisation of marijuana as well as marriage equality.

"There is a particularly strong relationship with support for the legalisation of marijuana, and to a lesser extent with support for marriage equality," the study read.

"Those who distrust government, who are now a majority of the population having grown substantially over the last decade, are somewhat more likely to support pill testing.

"This may be a consequence of young people's experiences with politics and an aversion to the formal, professional politics that is represented by the traditional political parties."

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Age also played a part in the varying support between societal groups but it was religion that seemed to have the largest effect.

"The results show that social support for pill testing is based on age, as we would expect, with younger respondents being strongly in favour and older respondents being more likely to be against," the study read.

"The most important social background variable is church attendance, with those who do not attend church being more likely to support pill testing.

"While some of the more liberal groups have argued in favour of decriminalisation, such as the Uniting Church, many other denominations are strongly opposed to harm reduction."

The ACT is the only jurisdiction to have trialled a pill testing strategy at two Groovin the Moo festivals in 2018 and 2019.

A pill testing clinic is expected to open in Civic before the end of the year once regulatory, policing and public safety matters are considered.

The researchers call for more discussion surrounding further trials to gather evidence for the strategy's effectiveness in harm reduction.

Without pill testing trials being considered in most states apart from the ACT, let alone implemented, the researchers suggest it will remain a chicken and egg problem until then.

"The objection of the states to pill testing is surprising, since the stated goal of both sides of the debate is to save lives," the study read.

"The results show that there is a high level of political polarisation surrounding opinions among both voters and political elites.

"This issue must be addressed if the policy is to be advanced as part of an overall harm reduction approach to drug use."

This story Almost two-thirds support pill testing but policy hasn't caught up: research first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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