25 March 2024

Queensland set to be first state in the country with permanent pill-testing clinics

| James Day
Start the conversation
person carrying out a drug test in the lab

Chemical analyst Cassidy Whitefield shows how drugs are tested at the country’s first fixed pill-testing site in the ACT. Photo: Region.

Almost $1 million has been committed to the Sunshine State’s free, voluntary and confidential pill-testing clinics, making it the nation’s first region with a permanent service.

While the ACT was Australia’s first jurisdiction to introduce a pill-testing clinic, CanTEST, it hasn’t progressed from its trial into an ongoing site. However, last year the Queensland Government said it would fully back the harm-reduction strategy by establishing two fixed pill-testing clinics in Brisbane over 2024.

The service will not only test substances, but also provide health interventions delivered by trained health and harm-reduction workers aiming to change a person’s behaviour so they can reduce their risk of harm.

READ ALSO Queensland brings in another suite of reforms to casino regulation following Gotterson Inquiry

Queensland’s Minister for Health Shannon Fentiman said she was thrilled to support the innovative services reducing harm from illicit drug use.

“In 2021, there were 2231 drug-induced deaths in Australia – the equivalent of five deaths a day,” said Ms Fentiman. “That’s 2231 deaths too many, and we know this number will continue to grow if we don’t act now.

“I want to be clear that these services are all about harm minimisation; we don’t want people ending up in our emergency departments – or worse, losing their life.

“They aim to make people aware of the dangers of taking illicit substances, influence behaviour and, ideally, reduce their use of substances.”

In 2019, the Queensland Productivity Commission discovered that drug decriminalisation would save the state’s taxpayers more than $165 million in prison costs alone.

And last year the State Government predicted that about 17,000 fewer people would be prosecuted for drug possession following the expansion of its drug-diversion program from cannabis. As a result of the change, those who would have been charged with possessing substances such as methamphetamine and heroin are now warned or given the opportunity to join a diversionary program.

man operating a pill-testing site at a music festival

Dr David Caldicott inside the pill-testing site at the Groovin the Moo festival in 2019. Harm Reduction Australia (operating as Pill Testing Australia) has been engaged to use its experience to deliver several festival-based services across 2024 and 2025. Photo: Pill Testing Australia.

The Minister said she looked forward to working with the two successful providers from Queensland Health’s open-market tender process, who have been chosen to deliver the state-funded fixed-site and event-based pill-testing services.

At the upcoming Rabbit Eats Lettuce festival, the state will host its first service to help attendants make informed decisions. This event, and the two fixed sites to be established in South-East Queensland, will be operated by a coalition of the Queensland Injectors Health Network (QuIHN), The Loop Australia, and Queensland Injectors Voice for Advocacy and Action.

The services are also to be evaluated by the University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research, for the development of a statewide monitoring framework on pill testing.

READ ALSO Government does a ‘slash and burn’ on the Opposition over APS jobs

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) welcomed Queensland’s commitment and strongly urged the Victorian Government to act on multiple coronial recommendations and introduce a pill-testing trial.

“This is a momentous day,” said RACGP Queensland deputy chair Dr Aileen Traves. “Pill testing is not about condoning illicit drug use.

“Far from it – these services constitute an intelligent harm-reduction measure proven around the world to save lives.

“We shouldn’t pretend that we can ever completely stamp out illicit drug use, or pretend that it doesn’t happen. It does happen, and we should act to minimise the harm and keep people as safe as possible.

“Pill-testing services also allow trained staff to talk to people using illicit drugs, free of judgment, about why they are using drugs and explain the many dangers. What they find is that many people who submit drugs for testing discard them when they find out what they contain.

“Well done to the Queensland Government for having the courage and commitment to make this happen.”

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.