In an indication of the life-saving potential of pill testing, subsequent laboratory analysis of some of the discarded drugs detected the presence of the deadly NBOMe adulterant, a powerful psychedelic hallucinogen linked to three deaths and 20 hospitalisations at nightclubs on Melbourne’s Chapel Street.
ECU researcher Stephen Bright. Picture: Justin Benson-Cooper.Source:PerthNow
Leading Australian drug researcher and Edith Cowan University academic Stephen Bright spoke exclusively with The Sunday Times about his involvement in the rogue trial in an attempt to shift the national dialogue on pill testing at music festivals.
But despite being presented with the confronting results of the pilot, both Police Minister Michelle Roberts and Health Minister Roger Cook’s office said pill testing was “not on the State Government’s agenda”.
“This experiment at the very least highlights how you really are rolling the dice when you dabble with illicit drugs,” Mrs Roberts said.
“You can never be guaranteed the drug is what it purports to be, or what deadly ingredients may be in the substance.”
Dr Bright refutes that claim and said the results of the secret trial highlighted the need for sophisticated testing equipment.
He said the right equipment could detect both the concentration of MDMA in pills and capsules, preventing overdoses, as well as the presence of dangerous adulterants.
“It could be argued that those who stand in the way of implementing this initiative in Australia, if we keep seeing deaths, have blood on their hands,” he said.
Dr Bright worked at Monash Health in Melbourne for eight years before moving to Perth to helm ECU’s addiction studies course in July.
He was camping at a Victorian music festival in January with other harm reduction workers when one of them was offered ecstasy by a dealer.
The group, mindful of the recent ecstasy-related deaths on Chapel Street, had arrived at the festival with a battery of publicly available reagent testing kits.
A test of the pill returned a positive reading for para-Methoxyamphetamine (PMA), the so-called “Dr Death” adulterant responsible for dozens of fatalities all over the world, including seven in Scotland in 2013.
After speaking with festival organisers, a covert testing station was quickly established and about 300 people had their drugs checked.
Dr Bright said each of the pills or capsules presented was subjected to four different reagent tests. In about 30 per cent of cases the tests contradicted each other, indicating the presence of an unrecognised substance.
Practically every single person confronted with unknown drugs elected to bin their pills.
Some of the discarded drugs were subsequently sent for detailed analysis at a lab in Spain where they came back positive for NBOMe — the same adulterant contained in the fatal batch of Chapel Street pills.
An image sourced from the web of a pill testing kit in action. Picture: vice.comSource:PerthNow
Available online and at speciality stores, reagent tests are far from comprehensive but remain one of the only testing avenues available to cautious party drug users.
The appetite for pill testing does not stretch to the Federal Government, as evidenced by reports of its recent last-minute intervention in what would have been an Australian-first authorised trial at music concert Spilt Milk at Commonwealth Park in Canberra.
Canberra-based emergency doctor David Caldicott, part of the consortium slated to carry out the Spilt Milk trial, has been a strident advocate of musical festival pill testing since trying and failing to save the life of a young man who had taken ecstasy containing PMA in 2001.
Dr Calidcott said advanced pill testing facilities, both at music festivals and at permanent city sites, were common in Europe, including the Netherlands where the practice is credited with largely eradicating the presence of dangerous adulterants.
“Pill testing is a proven success but in Australia we still have these incredibly dated myths about how it is a threat or encourages drug use, the kind of thing that is straight out of Nancy Regan’s playbook,” he said.
Originally published by PerthNow