Saturday, July 13, 2024

Queensland to roll out pill testing

The Queensland Government has today announced it is set to roll out free, voluntary and confidential pill testing in a bid to reduce the risks and harms associated with illicit drug use.

Nearly $1 million is set to be invested in the service roll out, allowing Queenslanders to take substances they intend to use to an appropriately qualified chemist for chemical testing. 

In addition to testing substances, services will also provide health interventions delivered by trained health and harm reduction workers that aim to change a person’s behaviour and reduce their risk of harm, said Minister for Health, Mental Health and Ambulance Service, Shannon Fentiman.

“I am thrilled to be supporting new and innovative services to help reduce harms from illicit drug use,” she said.

“In 2021, there were 2,231 drug-induced deaths in Australia – the equivalent of five deaths a day. That’s 2,231 deaths too many, and we know this number will continue to grow if we don’t act now.

“I want to be clear that these services are all about harm minimisation; we don’t want people ending up in our emergency departments – or worse losing their life.

“They aim to make people aware of the dangers of taking illicit substances, influence behaviour and ideally, reduce their use of substances.

“I look forward to working with the successful providers who I know bring extensive experience and expertise in delivering harm reduction services and working with people who use alcohol and other drugs.”

The upcoming Rabbit Eats Lettuce festival will play host to Queensland’s first event-based pill testing service to help festival goers make informed decisions.

Today’s announcement follows an open market tender process undertaken by Queensland Health, where two providers with extensive experience in the sector were chosen to deliver the state-funded fixed site and event-based pill testing services. 

A partnership between the Queensland Injectors Health Network, The Loop Australia and the Queensland Injectors Voice for Advocacy and Action will serve as one provider to deliver fixed site services at two locations in south-east Queensland, and at least one festival-based service in 2024.

Harm Reduction Australia (operating as Pill Testing Australia) has also been engaged to deliver several festival-based services across 2024 and 2025, bringing their experience of operating services at festivals and a fixed-site service in Canberra.

“The Pill Testing Australia (PTA) team looks forward to delivering Queensland’s first pill testing/drug checking service, which will occur at the upcoming Rabbits Eat Lettuce festival near Warwick,” a Pill Testing Australia spokesperson said.

“This marks an important milestone in the ongoing efforts of Queensland to reduce drug related harms, and we know the patrons of the festival and their families and friends will greatly appreciate the availability of this vital public health service.

“PTA will work in close collaboration with the onsite health provider, as well as local harm reduction and peer support services and the wider team of event stakeholders, to deliver this new service in Queensland.”

The Queensland Government has also engaged University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research to conduct an evaluation of the services and develop a state-wide monitoring framework for pill testing.

The evaluation will help inform continuous improvement and ongoing models of service and access, the Government said.

“I commend the Queensland Government for their commitment to evidence-based responses to drug use. We must be proactive to safeguard the health and well-being of our community,” said Queensland Injectors Health Network (QuIHN) Ltd, CEO, Geoffrey Davey.

“This funding is a significant step forward toward building a safer and more informed community. We are confident that our drug-checking service will empower individuals to make safer choices.”

Queensland Injectors Voice for Advocacy and Action (QuIVAA) Inc CEO, Emma Kill said drug checking provides people with timely and relevant information that allows them to make more informed decisions at a time when they have already chosen to take drugs.

Drug checking is a commonsense harm reduction approach, successfully used all over the world, she said.

“It surpasses substance testing; we’re equipping individuals with the means to make informed decisions about their drug use.”

“By providing accurate information and fostering a sense of responsibility, we’re not just reshaping choices – we’re saving lives and constructing safer, more resilient communities,” said Ms Kill.

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