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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