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Drug Experts Brace For Mass Arrests As They Prepare To Roll Out Pill Testing Program Behind NSW Government’s Back

The experts responsible for a privately-funded trial to introduce pill testing at music festivals have gone into full civil disobedience mode.

The possibility for “mass arrests” is now being factored into their plan to rollout the first ever pill-testing facilities in NSW, after Deputy Premier Troy Grant slammed the life-saving service as a “very dangerous regime that the NSW government fundamentally rejects”.

Grant also threatened to charge those implementing it with drug possession and supply, and as such, pill-testing program’s founders are now bracing for the worst.

Will Tregoning, the founder of drug law reform agency Unharm, says the pill-testing procedures will be carried out inside a van staffed with toxicologists, and shielded from police by barriers of supporters willing to risk arrest to protect others from prosecution.

“We absolutely have to create that sense of trust around the service,” he told SMH.

“One way we will be doing that is by ensuring there are very many supporters of the service present to essentially created a buffer from police activity for consumers accessing the service.”

He added that the buffer zone was designed to hamper police efforts to identify who was in possession of the drugs, and would potentially lead to mass arrests.

Tregoning is one of three drug reform advocates – along with President of the Australian Drug Reform Foundation Alex Wodak and emergency medical specialist David Caldicott – spearheading​ the pill-testing pilot program, which will provide mobile laboratory-grade drug testing facilities at music festivals in a bid to allow punters to make sure their drugs don’t contain anything that will – you know – kill them.

And though Tregoning says the pilot is still “months away”, they’re expecting to implement it in NSW by the end of the year.

“It need not be in NSW first but the pressure on NSW is not going to stop. It’s going to happen here,” he said, adding that they’ve already seen a “flood of support”, including from festival promoters.

John Wall from Fuzzy, who are responsible for bringing us festivals such as Field Day, Listen Out and Harbourlife, spoke on triple j’s Hack overnight also in favour of pill-testing, but conceded that the state government’s staunch opposition is going to make life hard:

The majority of punters are also behind pill-testing, with almost 84% of more than 10,000 Music Feeds readers polled voting in favour of implementing the service:

pill testing chart

It’s also the position of leading Aussie health groups, a number of drug policy experts, musicians such as Illy and Peking Duk, as well as other top industry figures including Stereosonic founder Richie McNeil and even gutsy Labor MP Jo Haylen, who has deviated from her party’s official policy to advocate for pill-testing, drug amnesty bins and to ditch sniffer dogs at music festivals.

Still the state government have flat-out refused to even consider it as an option, with Troy Grant saying: “We’re not going to set up a regime test to for something that’s illegal to see if it’s safe to ingest or not. We’re not going to condone illegal drug-taking, full stop.”

Speaking with radio station 2UE on Monday, not only did he threaten the pill-testing advocates with prosecution for drug possession and supply, he also threatened them with manslaughter charges if one of the pills they test does indeed prove fatal.

“[I]f these pills go wrong and kill someone they may well be vulnerable to manslaughter charges,” he said.

Tregoning, meanwhile, has stressed that education is going to be a core feature of the pill-testing service, and will involve “on-site analytical chemists to interpret test results and a safe disposal bin for users to discard toxic drugs”.

“If people are in possession of substances that place them at a really high risk, we want them to throw them away and the best way to do that is to provide them with information,” he said.

“As long as government continues to stand in the way of this service they are making it more likely that people will die.”

 

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