New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has found that access to pill testing would not give people an incentive to use drugs.
The research, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, surveyed 247 attendees at a West Australian music festival. A significant majority – 212 – of those surveyed had previously taken ecstasy.
Attendees were asked whether they were more likely to take drugs if they had access to a testing service, either at the festival or in the Perth CBD. Regardless of their usage status, respondents said they were not more likely to take drugs if they had access to testing.
“There’s been a push in the media that if pill testing is rolled out, it’s going to give the green light to people to use drugs,” says Stephen Bright, a senior lecturer at ECU and author on the study.
“Our study aimed to test this out […] and collect some data that would either support or disprove that idea.”
Bright added that while the survey had presented a hypothetical pill-testing clinic, he was confident the results would be similar with an actual pill-testing clinic. He cited his observations of pill-testing trials in other states.
“If we identify a compound that’s dangerous and tell them about that […] my experience is that people just chucked it in the bin. So it reduces intention to use.”
Bright adds that social norms around pill testing are also an important factor, particularly in their West Australian study.
“Our study showed the biggest influence on a person’s intention to use a pill-testing service at a festival was how it was viewed among their friendship group,” he says.
“Perth is a small place. People are very concerned about who might be seeing them doing what with whom. And so what we found was if testing was done on site, the main motivation for people to use it was whether other people thought it was okay to use as well.”
He also suggests peer-based harm-reduction groups as an important way to encourage pill testing and safety around drug use.
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at The Royal Institution of Australia.
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