Thank you for allowing me to address this meeting of the Victorian Parliamentary Committee for the inquiry into Drug Law Reform. As a member of the Victorian Drug Force. I have extensive experience policing the party drugs that our young adults take at nightclubs and concerts. Sometimes, these drugs kill them, and frequently it takes them to hospital. That’s why I’m urging this Committee to recommend to parliament that we legalise a trial of pill testing. This is not about condoning drug use. It is about saving lives, because it’s clear our current focus on zero tolerance isn’t working.
What do I mean when I say pill testing? Essentially, I mean at events where we know drugs like ecstasy and GHB will be consumed – we follow the example set by almost all European nations and allow free onsite testing of drugs for lethal ingredients. Within minutes, we can inform that person whether that drug was going to kill them.
The reasons we should trial this are both ethical and practical. Firstly, it could prevent a large number of hospitalisations and deaths. As members of Parliament, you are surely aware of what recently happened with the spate of 6 overdoses from the drug GHB in nightclubs on King Street and Little Bourke Street. The fact that there was no deaths and online hospitalisations, was good luck rather than anything else.
But for others, luck isn’t on their side. The United Nations 2014 World Drug Report reveals that Australia leads the world in ecstasy use. We come third in methamphetamines, and fourth in coca ethylene. Deaths have, and will continue to happen, unless we take sensible action to minimise harm. That action is legalising pill testing.
Recently, there was a batch of ecstasy pills bearing the superman logo being sold in the Netherlands and in England. Both countries found out this batch of drugs were deadly. In the Netherlands, it was caught by pill testing, and the authorities warned the users which resulted in no deaths. Alternatively, in England, where pill testing doesn’t occur, there has been a reported 4 deaths from the drug, all victims were young. Victoria should not follow that example any longer.
But I’m recommending pill testing to you not just to save lives, but to catch criminals. As a federal policeman, I can tell you that our most powerful weapon in fighting drug crime is information. If we’ve warned someone through pill testing that a drug would have killed them, that is a powerful incentive for them to tell us where they bought the drug, so we can arrest the real criminals, the drug dealers and manufacturers. I hate to be so blunt with members of parliament here, but dead people tend not to tell you who killed them.
Pill testing is also practical for reducing drug use and regulating the black market. Research across 9 European countries shows that 50% of those who found lethal ingredients in their drugs would stop taking drugs. This experience overseas also who shows that when we allow pill testing, manufacturers increase the safety of their drugs to firstly avoid arrest, and secondly avoid a bad reputation among buyers. So, pill testing gives us far more power to police the drugs market, just as we police the alcohol and tobacco market to reduce harm to our community.
Now, I’ve heard that some members of this very committee argue that pill testing suggests we tolerate drug use. I understand that it serves public perception when the government is hard on drugs, but complex issues like this need complex solutions. People will keep dying from drugs unless we adapt and focus on harm reduction. We apply this logic of harm minimisation to cancer, to heart disease, and to all other life-threatening diseases, but drug deaths come with such a stigma that the government refuses to engage with it rationally and open-mindedly. You, as members of a powerful parliamentary committee, have the capacity to change that.
And that’s the message I want to leave you with. This debate has been had and won in over 20 countries and yet in Australia, in our country, we allow this horrific pattern of preventable drug deaths to continue year after year. We sit back and watch this annual cull each Summer when we keep tolerating circumstances at nightclubs and concerts where we know people will die, and then when they do, we shake our heads and wail “isn’t that a shame?”. If it’s a shame, it’s our shame and our disgrace.
I entered law enforcement not just to report on these deaths, but to stop them. And I know you entered politics to protect our community, not to neglect it. So today, I urge you to recommend a trial of pill testing to show Victorians that we are a government and a police force of action, and not just words.