Pill testing results show service’s importance to health and safety

Minister for Health, Mental Health and Ambulance Services and Minister for Women The Honourable Shannon Fentiman
  • Queensland’s first pill testing service and Australia’s first multi-day pill testing service rolled out over the Easter weekend at the Rabbits Eat Lettuce festival.
  • 257 festival goers had their substances tested by a qualified chemist and met with a harm reduction worker.
  • Festival goers were provided with information on the dangers of drug-use and many reported they would reconsider or take less of the substances they had planned to.
  • The Miles Government is investing nearly $1 million to fund the delivery and evaluation of drug checking services in Queensland over the next two years, which includes education around the dangers of illicit substances.

Queensland’s first event-based drug checking (also known as pill testing) service successfully rolled-out over the Easter weekend at the Rabbits Eat Lettuce festival.

It’s the first time this type of testing was conducted in Queensland, and a national first for a multi-day music festival.

The drug checking service worked with other onsite services including the festival operations crew and the onsite medical service.

The service is designed to minimise the risk of harm. In addition to checking drugs for dangerous substances, a team of specialist healthcare and harm reduction workers provide information about the dangers of drug use, with an aim to positively influence behaviour and reduce the overall intake of illicit substances.

The new initiative is free, voluntary and confidential. It involves the testing of substances a person is intending to use, providing a health intervention that aims to change a person’s behaviour, and reduce their risk of harms associated with illicit drug use.

The Miles Government is investing nearly $1 million to fund the delivery and evaluation of drug checking services in Queensland over the next two years.

The event-based service at Rabbits Eat Lettuce was delivered by Pill Testing Australia, with a total of 257 festival goers visiting the drug checking tent over the four days.

The average age of patrons who visited the service at the festival were between 28-30 years old.

Initial data analysis shows that out of the 210 samples provided for testing at the festival by qualified chemists, approximately 14 samples were discarded at the pill testing service.

The most common substances presented for testing included MDMA and ketamine.

Some higher-risk substances were identified including Dimethylpentylone (a synthetic cathinone) and 2-fluoro-2-oxo-phenylcyclohexylethylamine, which were both mis-sold as other substances. The latter was detected for the first time in Australia by the CanTEST drug checking service in Canberra.

A fixed site service is earmarked to commence in mid-April in Brisbane and will be delivered by a partnership of service providers. A second fixed site will be determined through co-design processes with people with lived experience.

Quotes attributable to the Minister for Health, Mental Health and Ambulance Service Shannon Fentiman:

“I want to be very clear that there is no safe way to take illicit drugs, but we can take steps to reduce harm and help people make more informed choices.

“In 2021, there were over 2,200 drug-related deaths in Australia, which is 2,200 too many. That is why this initiative is important.

“The drug checking service provided health advice and harm reduction information to hundreds of festival goers this weekend, meaning that those who did decide to take drugs did so in a more informed way.

“Many participants said that they would reconsider or take less of the substances they had in their possession, which is an excellent outcome.

“We are proud to support this initiative and be the first State in Australia to deliver this service at a multi-day event. I encourage other jurisdictions across the country to follow our lead to keep their communities safe.

“It has been really disappointing to see the LNP indicate they want to roll back these services.

“These services will save lives and keep people safe, and it’s time the LNP stop standing in the way of harm reduction measures.”

Quotes attributable to Stephanie Tzanetis, Executive Officer and Festival Service Delivery Manager from Pill Testing Australia:

“The success of Queensland’s first pill testing service at the Rabbits Eat Lettuce (REL) festival, would not have been possible without the leadership team of Professor Malcolm McLeod (Chemistry Lead), Dr David Caldicott (Medical Lead) and Dr Penny Hill (Data Officer).

“This success was made possible due to the collaboration with the event’s Director, Operations Manager, Emergency Service Coordinator and key stakeholders, including the onsite health provider (HEST Paramedical) and the peer-based harm reduction services (Conscious Nest).

“We are grateful to supporters throughout the service planning process, including HRA, QuIHN, QuIVAA, Conscious Nest, Family Drug Support QLD, the University of QLD, Directions Health (the CanTEST Lead agency).

“Crucially, we thank the patrons who accessed the service. While there were no ‘high risk’ substances found over the weekend, there were some unexpected results and Pill Testing Australia will share information about those detections for the benefit of the community.”

/Public Release. View in full here.