January 13, 2019

Horse 2501 - If Venues Wanted To, They Could Already Test Pills; So Blame Them, Not The Police

A 19-year-old woman has died after taking a unidentified substance at the FOMO music festival in western Sydney.
A NSW Ambulance spokesman said the reveller was presented to the medical centre at the festival site, appearing to have a reaction to drugs.

Paramedics treated her at the scene and in the ambulance on the way to Westmead Hospital where she later died.
Police believed the woman took an "unidentified substance" but were still confirming the circumstances behind her death.
- ABC News, 13th Jan 2019

The thing that I find troubling about the ongoing debate about pill testing in venues, is that those people who want to allow pill testing at venues, invariably think that it is the government's responsibility to provide that testing. I don't care if you want to reframe this as a public health issue instead of an issue of law and order because the bottom line is that people have died.
The Premier Gladys Berejiklian, had this to say when asked to comment:

"But I also want to make sure that we look at every opportunity to reduce deaths from drugs, and I worry, I worry that something like pill testing will actually have the opposite effect.
So as many experts have said, in the absence of evidence, we need to keep sending out the strongest message that taking these illicit drugs, kills lives; kills loved ones and we ask young people not to do it.”
- NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

I actually agree with the Premier here. As tragic as this is, this was still a completely voluntary action by someone with independent agency. The only perfect solution to win this game is to assume that all drugs will kill you, and don't take any.
If the people who wanted to take drugs were actually concerned about their health, then either they wouldn't take drugs in the first place, or if they were still determined to, they'd go to any pharmacy and test the pills themselves.

Drug Alert Street Drugs Single Kit - $18.99

I do happen to agree with the fact that sending people to prison because of possession doesn't seem to work because the end result of that is merely a lot of people in prison who otherwise wouldn't have been sent there. Decriminalising drug use isn't exactly the answer either because that removes a tool from the arsenal of fighting deaths due to drug use. I think that Portugal has it about right, where people are arrested for possession and then the issue is treated as a public health issue.
In Portugal, it is still illegal for people to use or possess drugs for personal use without authorization and although the offense still stands as a criminal offense with the possibility of punishment, in general small amounts are treated as a civil offence with administrative penalties and referral to health care professionals if the amount of illegal drugs in possession is no more than a ten-day supply.

One of the arguments that is frequently put forward in this realm of discussion is that Prohibition in the United States didn't work. The truth is actually a lot stranger than that. Under all of the basic public health measurements Probation was actually a resounding success; there are a number of statistical measures which directly stem from the sharp drop in the amount of alcohol consumption during Prohibition.
- Cirrhosis death rates: 29.5/100,000 in 1911 - 10.7/100,000 in 1929.
- Admissions to mental hospital for alcohol psychosis: 10.1/100,000 in 1919 - 4.7/100,000 in 1928.
Public drunkenness fell by 50%, violent crime moved practically nowhere. Granted that organized crime did become more visible but I suspect that an undue focus was put on it by the commercial media outlets of the day and has subsequently been mythologised today.
The bottom line is that Prohibition actually worked really well; the reason why the 18th Amendment was repealed was that it immediately gave the US Government access at about $321 million in taxation revenues in the middle of the Depression.

The question which I keep on returning to in this issue to do with pill testing, is one of responsibility. I don't think that it is the government's responsibility to test drugs which are already illegal. If a venue wants to do something about harm minimisation, then there's nothing which currently prevents that venue from buying its own kits and doing its own testing. If it thinks that it has a duty of care to its patrons, then it should include the carrying costs of doing that pill testing by itself. There is currently nothing in the law to prevent that. Why blame the police when music festivals are negligent?
Outrage that the police don't do pill testing is misplaced. The police's job is to enforce the law; that means the confiscation of illegal drugs. Illegal drugs are illegal for a good reason - they kill people. Unregulated drugs; which are taken by people who don't understand the pharmacology or how they will interact with other drugs are gambling with their lives already.

If this is a veil for an argument to legalise drugs on the basis that would lead to fewer deaths, I reject that notion outright. All that would do would shift the supply curve of drugs, which would make more of them available at cheaper prices. If you open the marketplace, then you get more suppliers and the price will drop because that creates a further economic incentive to supply drugs, as you've now removed a barrier to the marketplace.
I realise that there never going to be any perfect solution to this problem. However, if you perform an experiment more often, the likelihood of the event happening, goes up. I don't see legalising drugs as doing anything other than opening an avenue to performing that experiment more often.

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