Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 22, 2023



CanTEST Health and Drug Checking Service

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:16): I move:

That this council—

1. Notes that CanTEST Health and Drug Checking Service:

(a) is Australia's first fixed-site health and drug checking service, launched by the Australian Capital Territory government as a six-month pilot on 21 July 2022, and has been extended for another six months;

(b) provides a confidential pill-testing service that analyses contents of drugs to help service users better understand the unknown and potentially dangerous substances in illicit drugs; and

(c) provides appropriate information, counselling and advice to service users based on their specific test result, to encourage choices that reduce overall drug use and the harms associated with taking illicit drugs.

2. Recognises that drug checking is a harm reduction service that leads to most users of the service opting to discard tainted drugs.

3. Calls on the Malinauskas government to establish the fixed-site health and drug checking service in South Australia.

This motion calls for this council to recognise the CanTEST Health and Drug Checking Service, which is Australia's first fixed-site health and drug checking service, launched by the Australian Capital Territory government as a six-month pilot on 21 July 2022. This motion calls for the council to recognise that that has been extended for another six months, and notes the benefit of this service, and calls on the Malinauskas government to establish a similar fixed-site health and drug checking service in South Australia. This is an issue that I have raised many times in this parliament.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2021 there were 1,704 drug-induced deaths in Australia. In many of these cases the person took a substance that was stronger than expected or had a dangerous contaminant in it that they did not know about. The composition of illicit drugs is varied and highly unpredictable. Makers of these illicit substances often cut pills with other substances or include more dangerous drugs entirely.

These drug-induced deaths could possibly have been avoided through pill testing. The purpose of the pill testing is threefold: to prevent people from using unusually strong or contaminated drugs, to communicate messages around safer drug use and reducing harm, and to improve user knowledge on how certain drugs can affect them. Through conversations with experts on the results of chemical analysis of pills, pill testing better manages the service user's risks and helps service users make an informed decisions about whether they still want to take the drug.

In addition to preventing avoidable deaths, pill testing can create an opportunity for confidential conversations about harm reduction, counselling and support services between drug users and testing staff. For some people this might be the first chance they have to talk with health services about their drug use, and pill testing provides a unique opportunity to do this in a safe and non-judgemental space.

Pill testing can help detect when a drugs market is circulating potentially more dangerous substances. This is particularly useful for emergency services and can provide an early warning system, alerting the public to dangerous drugs that might be circulating in the community. Pill testing can also collect information on drug use trends in festival and nightlife environments. This information can be used to help build research and knowledge to assist police and health services in reducing drug-related harms in these settings.

There is a large body of evidence from across the globe which shows that pill testing can alter drug-taking behaviour, potentially saving lives and reducing harm. A report from the Checkit! program in Austria reported that 50 per cent of people self-reported that the results of the test affected their consumption. Most users reported that they would wait for a result before taking the drug and when presented with a bad result, two-thirds said they would not consume the substance and would inform their friends. A similar study in the Netherlands conducted by the Addiction Research Institute found that if the test results were unexpected, many respondents would choose not to take the pill.

There is a range of research in this regard that I think is worthy of consideration by the government. It is my hope that they consider what is happening in the ACT and that they roll out a similar program in our state. I think to do so would be of great value to people in our community and would indeed save lives.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon I.K. Hunter.