Pill testing, is it the answer?

400,000 Australians, aged between 14 and 29 took ecstasy in 2015.

7 of them died.

800 of them were admitted into hospital emergency departments.

(Duff, E 2016)

Over a ten year period, ecstasy usage was measured by Project Know,  it found that “almost a quarter of the ingredients found in Australian ecstasy found to be totally unidentifiable” (Butler, J 2015), making  Australia’s ecstasy one of the most dangerous in the world.

Research has shown that there is a high risk that those who consume recreational drugs in Australia, specifically ecstasy are blindly ingesting toxic substances.

Pill testing is a harm minimisation strategy, which calls on educating the consumer on what they are about to take, and the risks involved around that; “to make sure they’re (drugs) are pure, make sure what consumers are buying is what the product is being represented as”, “the alternative is to take something blindly” (“What’s In My Baggie?” [Documentary], 2014).

The video below provides an explanation of the current situation surrounding ‘pill testing at music festivals’ in Australia.

The current Australian Government is in favour of enforcing harsher sentencing and heavier policing, with the belief that pill testing is “incentivising the manufacture, supply and use of these dangerous substances,” (Cooke, T 2015), despite the evidence of pill testing in Europe, “where they’ve had testing for 25 years and have lower rates of drug usage and no deaths” (Purtill, J 2015).

The video above is a trailer for the documentary“What’s In My Baggie?” showing the response and results of drug testing at a US music festival. While these consumers found the testing effective, not all responses regarding pill testing is as positive. Readers of the Huffington Post article by pill testing advocate and mother of Daniel, who died from a suspected drug overdose in 2012 responded to the idea of pill testing in a conflicting manner with opinions of “do the crime, do the time” (Elliot, J 2016), and”the only way to stop this is if anyone were to get caught dealing, selling, possession, using or taking drugs will get the Death Penalty. This will stop a lot of kids in a heartbeat.” (Maguire, J 2016).

Professor Alison Ritter, drug policy researcher and Director of the Drug Policy Modelling Program (DPMP) at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at the University of New South Wales, believes “effectiveness (of pill testing) is strongly grounded in evidence” (Ritter, A 2014). Her beliefs follow that pill testing has shown to…

…impact the black market

  • “Products identified as particularly dangerous that subsequently became the subject of warning campaigns were found to leave the market.”  (Ritter, A 2014)

…affect consumption choices

  •  50% of those who had their drugs tested at festivals in Austria, “said the results affected their consumption choices. Two-thirds said they wouldn’t consume the drug and would warn friends in cases of negative results.”  (Ritter, A 2014)

…allow for data creation

  • Drug testing has created “an important opportunity for providing support and information” (Ritter, A 2014) in regards to drug abuse, and education, allowing “drug services to contact a population that is otherwise difficult to reach” (Ritter, A 2014), this includes those who may be taking high risk drugs, but not be seeing instant symptoms;
  • The testing also allows for a trend analysis of drugs over a long term period, potentially allowing for predictions of future trends

It is difficult to see whether different opinions in the media are because of lack of knowledge of drug testing or if Facebook rants are valid (would the death penalty stop consumers taking recreational drugs?). Currently the criminalisation of recreational drugs makes the introduction of pill testing logistically difficult, as well as financing the program (should the Government aka the tax payers have to pay and if not will pill testing be inconsistent if consumers have to finance it?), and there is debate of whether a trial of drug testing would allow for a review and assessment of how it would play out at Australian music festivals.

Research has shown that enforcing a zero tolerance policy for recreational drugs has proven difficult. However, will the introduction of pill testing help consumers make better decisions regarding their drug use?

I will be researching this question, and how opinions vary, looking at readership of various media (comments and how they vary on posts regarding drug testing, as well as the bias of certain articles), data analysis (especially of trends of drug testing in Europe, 2014 Drug Trends Conference, United Nations 2014 World Drug Report, Project Know’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ study), documentaries (focus on US-based ‘What’s in my Baggie’), news media (notably ABC Four Corners ‘Dying to Dance’, Triple J Hack radio program, Sydney Morning Herald, SBS), Australian drug law reform groups (Unharm, Drug Law Reform Australia, Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform), petitions in response to pill testing at music festivals. I will also be conducting surveys in regards to university student’s views and opinions of  drug testing and its alternatives, and the perceived decision making process of drug consumption. This research will compare the views and opinions of university students with statistical data and evidence, to see if perceptions of pill testing are consistent with reported evidence.

Between 2002-2012, nearly 8,000 died due to accidental drug overdoses (Purtill, J 2015), would these deaths have been prevented by increased awareness of what these consumers were taking?


Buccianti, A 2016, ‘My Son Died At A Music Festival. This Is Why I Support Pill Testing’, Huffington Post, 12 January, viewed March 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/adriana-buccianti/my-son-died-at-a-music-festival-this-is-why-i-support-pill-testing_b_8951558.html&gt;

Butler, J 2015, ‘Music Festivals, Drugs And Pill Testing’, 29 December, viewed March 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2015/12/29/music-festival-drugs_n_8886364.html&gt;

Cooke, T 2015, retrieved from ‘Bob Carr backs call for pill testing to tackle drug-related deaths’, SBS News, 7 December, viewed March 2016, <http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/12/06/bob-carr-backs-call-pill-testing-tackle-drug-related-deaths&gt;

Duff, E 2016, ‘Pill testing trial to begin at Sydney music festivals, vows drug expert Alex Wodak’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February, viewed March 2016, <http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/pill-testing-trial-to-begin-at-sydney-music-festivals-vows-drug-expert-alex-wodak-20160227-gn59zu.html&gt;

Elliot, J 2016, ‘You’ve heard the expression…’, James Elliot, Facebook, 15 January, viewed March 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/adriana-buccianti/my-son-died-at-a-music-festival-this-is-why-i-support-pill-testing_b_8951558.html&gt;

Maguire, J 2016, ‘the only way to stop…’, Jerry Maguire, Facebook, 15 January, viewed March 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/adriana-buccianti/my-son-died-at-a-music-festival-this-is-why-i-support-pill-testing_b_8951558.html&gt;

Purtill, J 2015, ‘Will the Stereosonic drug death bring back pill testing?’, Triple J Hack, 1 December, viewed March 2016, <http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/will-sylvia-choi’s-stereosonic-death-change-pill-testing-policy/6991736&gt;

McKeith, S 2016, NSW Government Pledges To Crack Down On Festival Drug Use’, Huffington Post, 2 January, viewed March 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/01/01/field-day-drugs_n_8903586.html&gt;

Ritter, A 2014, ‘Six reasons Australia should pilot ‘pill testing’ party drugs’, The Conversation, 12 November, viewed March 2016, <http://theconversation.com/six-reasons-australia-should-pilot-pill-testing-party-drugs-34073&gt;

Schafter, M 2015, Deaths highlight ecstasy dangers but does zero-tolerance put lives at risk?, online video, 16 February, ABC 7:30, viewed March 2016, <http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2015/s4181233.htm&gt;

Sélection de pilules d’ecstasy en 2015, image, Slate, viewed March 2016, <http://www.slate.fr/story/108845/legalisation-mdma-petite-musique-monte&gt;

Tone Deaf 2015, ‘SIX DEAD, COUNTLESS OVERDOSES: WHY HAS AUSTRALIA’S MUSIC FESTIVAL CULTURE TURNED DEADLY?’, Tone Deaf, 7 December, viewed March 2016, <http://www.tonedeaf.com.au/466572/are-the-recent-deaths-at-aussie-music-festivals-a-cultural-problem.htm&gt;


3 responses to “Pill testing, is it the answer?

  1. I love this research topic, I think it is very well written and a very interesting research idea. Although your question is very broad and may be difficult to research, maybe consider confining it to students rather then all consumers. Also, you may want to look at the governments perspective in approving pill testing, specifically the lack of support from individuals such as Mike Baird. Well done though, excellent idea.

  2. This is an interesting research topic, one which will definitely shine a light on the issues surrounding drug use in social settings. The research methodologies that you’ve stated seem as if they will cover a broad range of answers, particularly when it comes to the broad range of readership that you will come across. What makes this interesting is the range of opinions that you will encounter as this is such a topical issue. You will have to be wary of bias that you may come across, particularly in comment sections. I think you’ll have to be cautious in surveying and interviewing, as this can be a sensitive issue. Will you focus on a particular demographic when questioning? If you’re not looking for a broad range of opinions, perhaps focusing on a particular age group will help you in finding specific answers etc.

    This website (https://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/blog/six-reasons-australia-should-pilot-‘pill-testing’-party-drugs) has some interesting statistics to support reasonings behind pill testing. Not knowing a lot about the issue, I found this article to be quite eye opening and made me question why we don’t enforce pill testing, particularly if it does save lives.

    I found the layout of your blog to be quite easy to navigate. This proposal instantly caught my attention, particularly with the use of the quote at the beginning of the post. I think it raised some alarm bells and instantly made me question, again, why we don’t have more avenues for pill testing. It seems as if drug taking in social situations, such as music festivals, is inevitable. Perhaps educating users as to what they are taking is the best way to prevent the use of toxic drugs.

    I think this research task is very interesting. There are a number of avenues you can take in answering your focus question, but I believe if you focused on a particular area/demographic it may refine the task for you. Good luck with all the research!

  3. Hey Amelia,
    This is such a great research topic, it will be very interesting to see what results you end up with. You will just have to be very careful and sensitive when surveying and especially when interviewing people about this topic because it will be hard to predict participants previous association with drugs. I think anonymous surveying would probably be more reliable because participants may be more inclined to lie when being interviewed about such a serious topic because they might be embarrassed by their answers so I would just be careful with which methods you use because you want to be able to collect the most accurate data as possible. I love your blog design especially the photos that you have used, the only thing I would suggest is making this blog post and any other blog posts about your research more obvious that it is research related because I just had a bit of trouble making sure that I was reading the right post.
    Good luck with your research!

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