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Following the unfortunate hospitalisations at Electric Parade this past weekend, the University of Melbourne Student Union would like to once again affirm its commitment to drug harm reduction.

This incident, along with a number of other high profile tragedies over the last few months have highlighted the need for a broad approach to harm reduction that includes not only the provision of rudimentary pill testing kits, but also information relating to contraindications and safer practices surrounding the consumption of drugs.

Australians are some of the highest users of illegal drugs, with 41.8% of Australians aged 14 years and over using illicit drugs in their lifetime. Drugs consumed in Australia are among the most dangerous in the world due to huge variances in purity and a high incidence of toxic adulterants.

These issues disproportionately affect young people, with people aged 20-29 being more likely to have used illicit drugs than other age group.

UMSU passed a motion in 2016 supporting the implementation of a pill testing scheme because zero tolerance approaches have been ineffective and harmful. Instead of treating drug use as a complex health issue with societal and structural factors, Victoria Police and the Andrews government have reduced it to a criminal issue that can only be dealt with by suppression and force. Zero-tolerance policies cause active harm to individuals and communities in a way that is unhelpful and potentially devastating. Access to high quality methods of testing and information about safer drug-taking practices empowers Australians to make informed choices about their health and behaviour.

Our pill testing scheme is taking longer to roll out than we had expected to accommodate for this measured and evidence-based approach to reducing drug harm. We will be expanding the program to include education on steps that can be taken to ensure that you and your friends are as safe as possible. Our information sessions and publications will be available to you free of cost, and will include information on a wide variety of substances including alcohol, ‘party drugs’, psychedelics, and the broad class of stimulants used as ‘study drugs’. We will also be lobbying for high-level reforms in drug policy to allow for more accurate and reliable testing methods to be available to the public.

It’s no longer acceptable for Australians to expect that there will be drug-related hospitalisations and deaths every summer as if they are a permanent fixture of our festival and party scene. Through increased and improved drug education, the provision of high-quality testing services and policy reform, we can move towards a safer Australia for our young people.

 

Yan Zhuang
UMSU President

The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) will soon offer pill-testing kits to students, following a successful motion at last week’s Student Council meeting.

Assuming the motion is ratified by Council next week, reagent kits will be available for free from UMSU in the near future.

We understand that many members of our community are concerned about the message this may send. UMSU does not endorse recreational drug taking but we can’t ignore the fact that young people are going to continue consuming these substances regardless of their legality.

The welfare of students is ultimately one of UMSU’s primary concerns and we need to observe the duty of care that we have to our community. With that in mind, it’s clear to us that the current model of prohibition does not play an effective enough role in minimising harm.

“The deaths of last summer are still in our minds and we are not ignorant of the debate that had been going on nationally,” says UMSU President, Tyson Holloway-Clarke. “We know that students at the University of Melbourne take drugs and are directly affected by policies and the actions of the police.”

We know that 82% of people aged between 16-25 are supportive of pill testing.

We know that around 27% of Australians aged between 20-29 have used illicit drugs in the last year.

We also know that research indicates that ecstasy pills in Australia have been found to be among the most dangerous in the world.

We’re tired of seeing the tragic and avoidable deaths of young people over the festival season. Australia deserves a more nuanced approach to the conversation about drug use and we’re proud to be among the first to take this step. We’d also like to commend Students for Sensible Drug Policy for spearheading this motion, for all the work they’ve done so far and the work they will continue to do. We look forward to continuing our work with them into the future.

There are still details that need to fall into place before the kits will be available. We will also be working with the local police force to ensure that this program is successful and safe for students to take part in without the fear of falling foul of the law enforcement community.

Once everything is ready, we’ll be sure to let you know how these kits can be acquired, how to use them responsibly and what this means for the future of UMSU’s harm minimisation strategy.

Please stay safe and, as always, direct any enquiries to president@union.unimelb.edu.au.