September 27, 2022
Canberra service examined 58 samples in August with nearly a third of potential users discarding drugs once made aware of what they actually contained
Australia’s first government-backed pill and drug testing service has found a majority of samples were tainted with other substances, with nearly a third of people choosing to ditch their drugs after getting them checked.
In its first month of operation, Canberra’s fixed-site CanTest health and drug checking clinic examined 58 samples, with 18 people discarding their drugs once the results were in.
Researchers found all the cocaine tested at the service had purity levels below 27% – with 40% of the samples containing no cocaine.
One sample without any cocaine included the cutting agent dimethyl sulfone, another was entirely sugar, and others were cut with fillers such as talc.
All of the heroin samples contained heroin, with purity levels ranging from 31% to 63%, while just over 65% of MDMA samples contained that drug.
A majority of ketamine samples contained the substance, while one methamphetamine sample was found to be sugar.
The samples were analysed by chemists at ANU’s Research School of Chemistry. Associate Prof Malcolm McLeod said the results provided insight into what kinds of drugs were being sold in the local market.
“They also suggest the service is reaching a far broader cross-section of the drug-taking community than what was possible from Australia’s first festival-based pill testing services conducted in previous years.”
The CanTest service is a six-month trial run in collaboration with Directions Health Services, CAMHA, Pill Testing Australia and ACT Health.
There were previously short-term pill testing trials at the Groovin’ The Moo music festivals in Canberra in 2018 and 2019 run by Pill Testing Australia.
People who attended the fixed-site service in August reported feeling safe and respected. They said they received clear information.
Associate Prof David Caldicott from ANU’s medical school, who helped oversee and run the testing service, said it was important to engage “a new generation of young consumers, many of whom have never sought advice on their drug consumption before”.
Caldicott said the testing showed drug users were not “some sort of Cookie Monster personified [who] can’t be negotiated with and, no matter what we tell them, they’re going to use their drugs”.
“This community is everyone – and they’re not all dumb. If I tell you this is a really bad idea, and you shouldn’t do it, most people will listen.”
Caldicott said he was “delighted” to see some people discard drugs after testing. He said the trial acknowledged the reality of drug taking and any suggestion Australia could one day be drug-free was “magical thinking” from a bygone era.
The Canberra CBD clinic tested for fentanyl – a drug of concern that’s increasingly popular.
“To date, we have tested 15 samples for traces of fentanyl, with none showing signs of these dangerous and potent synthetic opiates,” Caldicott said.
“The fact that fentanyl derivatives were not present in any of the samples test is very good news, given these dangerous and potent synthetic opiates have ravaged North America.”