A pill-testing machine, as used in an ACT trial
Qld Health minister Yvette D'Ath says pill testing is about reducing the risk of people dying. Image by Jeremy Piper/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Pill testing to start at Victorian music festivals

June 25, 2024

An 18-month pill testing trial will start in Victoria in time for the summer music festival season.

Premier Jacinta Allan has announced a mobile service to begin this summer at up to 10 festivals and events over the 18 month trial, with a fixed site to open in mid-2025.

Legislation will be amended to allow the trial but possession and supply of illicit drugs won’t be decriminalised, with police powers for drug-checking outside the service to remain unchanged.

“We can put our heads in the sand like politicians have done before or we can change behaviour,” Ms Allan told reporters on Tuesday.

There will be no legalisation of illicit drugs under the plan.

Ms Allan originally made the announcement in a video posted to social media on Monday night.  

She said watching her two children grow up has impacted her stance on the issue. 

“In a few years, they’ll be heading off to parties, to music festivals, and like all parents I catch myself thinking – what if the worst happens? What if one of them doesn’t make it home?” she said in the video.

“That’s every parent’s worst nightmare – and more parents are living it.”

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan
 Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan considered her own children before green-lighting the trial. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS 

The change comes after the Victorian Greens, the Animal Justice Party and Legalise Cannabis Victoria tabled a joint Pill Testing for Drug Harm Reduction Bill in parliament earlier this year.

In a joint statement, the parties said “evidence-based” solutions included in their bill must be reflected in the government trial.

These include having a mobile pill testing service for major music festivals and a fixed-site service.

Animal Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria, Georgie Purcell, said experimenting with drugs shouldn’t be a life sentence. 

“This is sensible, evidence and health-based policy that can and will save lives,” Ms Purcell said. 

Greens spokesperson for Drug Harm Reduction Aiv Puglielli agreed.

“We know that there are dangerous substances circulating and by just having access to this service where they can simply be aware of the risks and dosage they’re taking, it can save their life.”

Swinburne psychopharmacology expert Amie Hayley said the trial was an exciting step forward for evidence-based strategies to support the health of young Victorians.

“This initiative will help save young lives and will be critical in supporting practical and realistic harm reduction reform across Australia,” Dr Hayley said.

Adriana Buccianti, whose son Daniel died of a drug overdose at the Rainbow Serpent music festival in 2012, said the trial was a step in the right direction and encouraged parents to have a discussion with their children.

“Having this pill-testing doesn’t condone drug use,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“But it’s a safety net.”

Ms Allan’s predecessor Daniel Andrews consistently rejected proposals for similar trials during his decade-long tenure.

“The best way to minimise harm is to acknowledge that there’s no safe level of which you can consume these drugs,” he said in 2023. 

Five Victorian coronial recommendations since 2021 have pushed for drug-checking services to reduce the risk of overdose deaths.

In January, Ms Allan sought advice from the health department after at least 10 people were taken to hospital following suspected drug use at festivals.

Queensland is the only other state and the ACT is the only territory to have legalised the rollout of pill testing.