New South Wales police have issued warnings regarding a batch of blue pills branded with a Superman ‘S’, which they believe are responsible for five recent drug overdoses in New South Wales.
Eleven people have been taken to hospital in Newcastle, with symptoms believed to be related to taking the blue pill. While lab tests have not yet determined the composition of the tablets, police and health professionals are urging people not to ingest them.
The overdoses sparked renewed calls for pill testing as summer approaches – the season for schoolies, Christmas parties and music festivals.
Around Australia, police, paramedics, and hospital emergency department staff are gearing up for what they call the ‘drug season’.
2015 was arguably Australia’s worst ever year for overdoses at music festivals, resulting in governments putting festivals on ‘notice’ of closure if the problem persists.
And while most festival organisers do what they can, simply banning drugs does little to combat the problem, resulting in people embarking on the dangerous practices of ‘preloading’ before an event or taking all their drugs at once upon seeing police and sniffer dogs at the event.
The presence of deadly ‘fillers’ in pills is also a significant problem, and health professions have been pointing out for years that pill testing is a proven way of informing festival-goers about the presence of such additives in their tablets, thereby allowing them to make decisions about whether to take their drugs and, if so, how much.
Fed up with what they believe is a ‘head-in-the-sand’ approach, advocates for pill testing took matters into their own hands around this time last year and made kits available at festivals across Sydney in what they say was a ‘protest manouvre’.
Spilt Milk festival trials pill-testing
The ACT has bucked the political trend, agreeing to allow a pill testing service be trialled at the Spilt Milk festival this year, on November 25.
It’s a positive step forward for pill-testing advocates, who say that in Europe, where pill testing has long been available, it has proven to be a very successful way for people to find out what they’re taking and make decisions beforehand. Australian harm minimisation advocate Dr David Caldicott, and a tireless campaigner for pill testing, says it reduces the prospect of users consuming drugs with harmful additives by 60 per cent.
The Spilt Milk festival trial comes at an interesting time for Australia, with a report released by heavy-weight think Tank group Australia 21 recommending a national move towards drug decriminalisation, with greater recognition of drug use as a health issue. The report also recommended more investment in harm-minimisation programmes, such as pill testing.
Trial results could provide a basis for expansion
The Spilt Milk festival trial will, at long last, provide local data which will enable decision-making with regard to the effectiveness of pill-testing and provide a much-needed direction for the potentially life-saving initiative.
After Spilt Milk has taken place, the organisation running the trial, Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE) will share results, which it hopes will provide impetus for the programme to be expanded, not just across the ACT, but other states and territories as well.