Pill Testing Australia conducts service at Rabbits Eat Lettuce Festival, QLD

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Queensland’s first legal pill testing tent has been hailed as a huge success, as it was revealed the chemists detected a new drug that’s becoming more popular at Australian festivals.

As thousands of music lovers flocked to Rabbits Eat Lettuce on the Queensland border over the Easter long weekend, so did a team of analytical chemists.

The group, Pill Testing Australia, spent the four-day festival testing pills through an anonymous and discreet service.

The event is the first multi-day festival in Australia to have a pill testing service and the first of its kind to take place in Queensland.

The service is aimed at “allowing all Australians to make informed decisions” through determining whether pills are cut with other dangerous substances or chemicals.

Pill Testing Australia were visited by 257 festival goers across the four-day festival to have their drugs checked, with average age of those using the service between 28-30.

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

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

However, the testing site also identified some higher-risk substances Dimethylpentylone (a synthetic cathinone) and 2-fluoro-2-oxo-phenylcyclohexylethylamine, which were both mis-sold as other substances.

The latter drug, dubbed the Canberra ketamine, was detected for the first time in Australia in 2022 by the CanTEST drug checking service in Canberra.

The introduction of the service comes after two festival attendees, Ebony Greening and Dassarn Tarbutt, were found dead at the popular festival in 2019.

A coronial investigation into their deaths found lethal levels of drugs were present in their system when they died.

Pill Testing Australia’s clinical lead David Caldicott said the service was “very successful” and well received by festival goers.

“Many, obviously attended (the pill testing site) to have their products tested, and many just turned up to say thank you. It’s been a journey for many of them as well,” Mr Caldicott told NCA NewsWire.

“To be able to attend a festival where this was in place, even just in case they needed it, was something that made them feel much safer.”

Mr Caldicott said Pill Testing Australia’s primary message is “that if you want to stay safe” you should not consume drugs, but noted some will still do so.

“We’re able to make that festival safer for patrons and so if the aim of the game is to have safer festivals, it seems pretty obvious that this is something that should be rolled out more widely,” he said.

Pill testing has previously been conducted by Pill Testing Australia in the ACT at one day festivals, including Spilt Milk and Groovin the Moo.

A fixed site service is earmarked to commence in mid-April in Brisbane, with plans to open a second fixed site through co-design processes with people with lived experience.

Queensland Health Minister Shannon Fentiman urged people to abstain from taking drugs despite the success of the program.

“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,” Ms Fentiman said.

“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.”

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