Victorian government urged to implement drug testing to save lives

November 21, 2023 BY

The ACT has trialled drug testing at music festivals. Photo: PIXABAY

MELI, along with 76 other peak bodies and health organisations, are calling on the Victorian government to implement drug checking services to reduce the escalating rate of deaths related to novel psychoactive substances (NPS).

The move follows 47 NPS-related deaths in 2021-2022, up from three deaths in 2017-2018, and aligns with recommendations made by the Coroners Court of Victoria.

Meli’s director of youth, housing and for the southwest Josephine Taylor said a drug checking service would allow individuals to make informed choices about their own substance use.

“Meli sees this as an important call to the government to enable our community to keep people safe who are using substances and for our services to be able to get a clear picture of how we can best support children, youth, and families who are being impacted by substance abuse.

“There is good evidence building for these services across the world.

“We know the approach is effective, and there is strong evidence that service users adjust their intended behaviour after accessing drug checking services.”

Drug checking services have now been established in 28 countries, including Australia.

After two trials at music festivals in 2018 and 2019, the ACT recently implemented an ongoing drug checking trial at a fixed site and earlier this year, the QLD government announced its intention to roll out the service across the state.

“We are seeing a slight increase in people in Geelong using novel fentanyl-type substances and other high-risk substances in our own community, often without their knowledge that is what they are taking,” Ms Taylor said.

“The service is a really important step to allow people to make choices to not use harmful substances by increasing awareness of what is really in it.

“We believe it will save people’s lives and enable an important link to health and other support services for people who need it.”

To date, the Victorian government has resisted calls to establish a drug checking service, citing concerns it would send a green light to individuals to consume illicit substances.

But Ms Taylor said the evidence available does not support concerns that a drug checking service would promote drug use.

“We need to look at things differently to save lives.

“Let’s think about this as an important response to a health issue rather than just viewing it in the legal setting as a criminal matter.

“We will only start to influence change in this setting if we can come alongside people who use substances and work together to make our community safer.”

Victorian Minister for Mental Health Ingrid Stitt did not respond to requests for comment.