Thursday, July 21st saw the grand opening of CanTest, Australia’s first fixed-site drug checking service, often dubbed 'pill testing'. The service is delivered by Directions Health Services in partnership with AIVL member organisation CAHMA and Pill Testing Australia.
This service is a landmark achievement for drug harm reduction in Australia and has been a long time coming. AIVL recognises that this could not have been made possible without the many years of advocacy, planning, hard work and dedication of peer-based organisations, drug law reform groups along with the champion campaigning of Pill Testing Australia and Harm Reduction Australia (HRA).
As drug checking takes its first steps towards becoming a potentially more widely integrated public health response to reducing the harms of illicit drug use, it is understandable that a rather infantile intervention in Australia will be subjected to mass public scrutiny and misconceptions.
To the outsider looking in, it is easy to assume that drug checking services are primarily focused on individual behaviour change, in that a person will either not use or dispose of a substance that contains foreign matter or toxicants that should not be present in a particular drug. The reality is, that this is only a small element of drug checking which whilst important, has far broader implications that benefit the public health response to the overdose crisis.
The impact of drug checking services stretches beyond the individual level, this is because every aspect of drug use from manufacturing to supply to consumption does not occur in a vacuum, there are intricate networks involved. Detection of harmful substances within drugs is therefore widely communicated throughout health authorities, peer networks, and among people who use drugs, which against the backdrop of unregulated illicit drug markets, increases accountability to particular dealers, supports safer supply initiatives, and improves the health and wellbeing of communities by informing them of the harmful or counterfeit drugs being circulated that can cause untold harms and overdose related death or injury. By being able to document long-term data about substances present within the Australian drug scene, earlier communications through warning systems can be established and further research can be done on new psychoactive substances that may be used as adulterants to gain more profound knowledge and understanding of the potential dangers and health risks associated with these.
Furthermore, visiting a drug checking service creates an opportunity for providing a diverse community of people and carers for people who use drugs to receive support and information over and above that of drug checking itself. This is particularly important when considering that people who use drugs continue to be a highly stigmatised and marginalised community who tend to avoid mainstream health services on account of this and a plethora of other reasons. Such an intervention provides a unique opportunity for these populations to establish contact with peer educators and other health network providers.
CanTest is located at
Ground floor, City Community Health Centre
1 Moore Street, Civic, Canberra City
You do not need to be an ACT Resident to use this service, it is open to everybody
They operate every Thursday 10 am-1 pm and Friday 6 pm-9 pm
For more information please visit: https://www.cahma.org.au/services/cantest/
AIVL is the national organisation representing people who use/have used illicit drugs and is the peak body for the state and territory peer-based drug user organisations.
Jake Docker, CEO, AIVL – email firstname.lastname@example.org