Nearly two-thirds of Australians back pill testing: study

Younger respondents were more likely to support pill testing and older respondents were more likely to be against, while people who attended a church or voted National were least likely to agree with the strategy.

Greens voters were just over twice as likely to support pill testing as people who voted Labor at the 2019 election. Liberal voters were about 25 per cent less likely to support the policy than Labor voters.

Australian National University Emeritus Professor Toni Makkai, who led the analysis and backs pill testing as a harm reduction method and way of engaging people with drug and alcohol support services, said the endorsement among young people meant public support figures would possibly grow as time goes on.

“It seems possible that this number will grow over time and then there will be a shift in policy response,” she said.

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“That’s what we’ve seen with other social issues: with euthanasia in Western Australia and Victoria, with abortion, and with same-sex marriage.”

To date, only one jurisdiction – the ACT at the 2018 and 2019 Groovin’ the Moo festivals – has trialled pill testing.

According to previous ANU research, about 80 per cent of festivalgoers who accessed the service were from interstate, with most of these people hailing from NSW.

In February, the NSW government rejected a recommendation from its inquiry into the drug ice that pill testing should be introduced. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has also taken an anti-pill testing stance, rejecting a proposal from the Victorian Ambulance Union in November 2019.

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Residents of the ACT were 4.7 times more likely to support pill testing than people living in NSW or Victoria.

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In the 2019 Australian Candidate Study, a survey of all candidates standing in the election, 66.8 per cent supported pill testing, with large political divides: while 75.6 per cent of Labor candidates and 95.5 per cent of Green candidates were in favour, 6.0 per cent of Coalition candidates supported the policy.

Greens health spokesperson Senator Rachel Siewert said the data showed it was time for governments to change their stance, describing drug use and pill testing as “a health issue not a criminal one”.

“We’ve seen this overseas and even in trials here in Australia, where the evidence shows that when people get better information about the potentially harmful ingredients in a pill, they’re far more likely to bin it.”

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