The Tasmanian Government should listen to health professionals and not police on pill testing, a lawyers’ group says.
Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Greg Barns said Health and Police Minister Michael Ferguson’s opposition to pill testing was akin to some people’s opposition to making condoms available during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
“Some people refused to accept the availability of condoms in prisons and other places during the AIDS crisis,” Mr Barns said.
“Fortunately they were not listened to. This is the same warped logic and failed ideology.”
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Mr Ferguson said it was reckless to suggest there was a safe use of any illicit drug.
“The idea that a testing service can indicate that an illegal drug is free of certain contaminants sends a very mixed and risky message,” he said.
"There are serious concerns over how many lives could be lost by people taking an illegal and dangerous drug under a belief that it is safe, and families who have lost loved ones are calling on governments to reject testing for this reason.”
Mr Barns said criminal and law enforcement responses to the use of illicit drugs at music festivals was failing and the government needed to listen to health experts.
“Our priority must be to avoid deaths and minimise harm,” he said.
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“The reality is that young people will experiment with drugs and they are being needlessly exposed to death or physical and mental harm when we have the ability to decrease this risk through pill testing.
“At every festival police use sniffer dogs and make arrests. Young people are then shunted through the court system. This approach does not reduce demand for drugs and does not recognise the reality of drug use at music festivals.”
Mr Barns said the ALA supported the Royal Australian College of Physician’s position that pill testing should be conducted in purpose-designed facilities by appropriately qualified technical specialists and should be accompanied by advice and information to allow festival goers to make informed choices.
“These facilities also offer an opportunity for medical professionals to provide advice to young people about the risks of drug taking,” he said.
Mr Ferguson is not convinced.
“We know there have been cases where people have died after using illicit drugs that are pure, so to offer a testing service that would suggest drugs are safe just because they don’t have additives in them would be incredibly irresponsible and dangerous and offer people a false sense of security,” he said.
The Law Society of Tasmania does not have a policy on pill testing.
President Evan Hughes said the society had not taken a position in relation to the matter “either historically or presently on the basis that it is, at its essence, a health issue”.
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