February 17, 2019
The Canberra Times
Canberra tobacco stores have reported a surge in sales for DIY pill-testing kits, as debate around pill testing at music festivals continues. The kits, available over-the-counter for as little as $10, can identify potentially lethal substances in MDMA.
The EZ Test has been listed for sale at four stores in the ACT and has also been stocked by a chemist chain in parts of western Sydney and Darwin.
Owner of tobacco store Mull Up in Mitchell Chris Burn said there had been a recent uptake in sales of the test.
“They’ve been selling really well. There’s been a small increase in sales the past few weeks,”Mr Burn said.
“I wouldn’t say they’ve been a major product, but they’ve been selling well for the two years we’ve been stocking it.”
Fyshwick-based warehouse The Bong Shop has stocked the test for the past two months and supervisor Jose Joncal has also noticed a boost in sales.
“We do pack and send out quite a few of them,” Mr Joncal said.
“From a safety standpoint, using a do-it-yourself kit does make sense. If people are using it to see what’s in it, it’s only common sense.”
The kits work by mixing a sample of the drug into a solution, which changes colour depending on the contents of the pill. Leaving the pill in the solution for longer can also determine the purity of the substance.
EZ Test owner Steve Bourk said the increase in sales of the tests wasn’t limited to Canberra. There was a steady increase in other major cities, particularly during the summer festival season.
“Once we hit festival season, it just gets bigger and bigger, with more stores taking stock off us,” Mr Bourk said.
“There’s been a mixture of people using the kits. One person has ordered the kits the last three weeks in a row.
“While we’ve been seeing sales go up, there’s still plenty of people out there who aren’t testing drugs.”
Canberra emergency doctor and pill-testing advocate David Caldicott said while he was reassured more people were testing drugs, he had concerns with the DIY kits.
Dr Caldicott said he was concerned people using the kits would not be able to accurately interpret the results.
“The market has expanded so extravagantly that it can be difficult to interpret those results, particularly if they’re not experienced or they’re trying to do it covertly or if they’re intoxicated while doing it,” Dr Caldicott said.
Dr Caldicott said pill testing in a medically supervised setting like a music festival had advantages over DIY kits.
“When you’re testing your own pill with a kit, you don’t have the opportunity afterwards to sit down with a medical professional and a counsellor to discuss drug use and how to stay safe,” he said.
“That’s one of the critical components the medically-supervised testing provides, and many regard it as the most important.
“From my perspective, the act of pill testing should be someone who isn’t intoxicated and ideally a specialised chemist who understands what the results mean.”
Australia’s first pill testing trial was held at Canberra’s Groovin the Moo last year. Debate on the issue intensified following the deaths of five young people in five months at NSW music festivals.
Advocates had called for pill testing facilities at NSW festivals but Premier Gladys Berejiklian has ruled out the practice.
Pill testing is likely to go ahead at this year’s Groovin the Moo in Canberra following its successful trial last year.
While the tests had been available in tobacco stores for several years, Mr Bourk said the company had planned to expand into further pharmacies to make the kits more readily available.
Mr Bourk said the kits had been a way for festivalgoers to minimise their level of risk if they chose to take drugs at a music festival.
“It’s definitely safer to not to take drugs, but if you do test it, you have more knowledge about what you’re about to do,” he said.
“The more you know about it the better.”