Researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) will evaluate Australia’s first drug testing facility, which launched in Canberra today. 

The site is the first bricks and mortar drug testing facility of its kind in Australia.

The ANU researchers say the new facility builds on the results of two festival-based pilot projects and strong community support. The service will be provided by the ACT Government with support from local health services and advocacy groups.

The aim of the service is to improve the quality of information available to people who use drugs and reduce harms for the user. The new facility will also offer referrals to other health and social services. 

Associate Professor Anna Olsen, from the ANU Medical School, will lead the evaluation of the new drug testing centre.  

“The need for quality evidence on illicit drugs content is a significant public health priority,” she said. 

“Understanding the impact of these types of services is especially important given the recent rise in deaths of young people at music festivals and the detection of high potency synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, in seized heroin and cocaine. 

“Our previous work suggests that drug testing services represent a unique setting to engage people who use drugs, in particular those who may not usually access health-related information about their drug use.”  

The evaluation will focus on how the service is run, how it is perceived by participants, and the impact it has on the Canberra community. 

“There is a need for further research into what extent drug testing services change people’s drug-taking behaviour in the short and longer term, or if it changes at all,” Associate Professor Olsen said. 

“Despite a range of drug checking services operating globally, the evidence base for drug checking is still developing and few independent evaluations are published. 

“We will ask participants what they thought of the service, what kind of information was useful to them and whether their behaviours were different after the service, and if so, in what ways were they different.” 

The researchers will also assess whether the service provides health authorities with greater insight into the current drug market and the most popular drugs that are circulating in the community.  

“Evidence suggests that drug testing can be useful for monitoring drug markets and identifying particularly dangerous or new psychoactive substances,” Associate Professor Olsen said. 

“We’ll not only be making a record of the contents of the drugs brought in, but also how useful it is to health services to know what is circulating within the community.” 

Associate Professor Anna Olsen (left) with chemical analyst Cassidy Whitefield analyse a batch of drugs at the new testing facility in Canberra. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

The drug testing facility will run for an initial trial period of six months and the ANU evaluation will provide important data on any impacts of the service.  

Associate Professor Olsen played a pivotal role in examining the outcomes of a drug testing trial conducted at Canberra’s Groovin the Moo festival in April 2019.  

About 170 illicit substances were tested and more than 230 festivalgoers came forward to test their drugs.  

An outcome to arise from the evaluation of the 2019 Groovin the Moo drug testing trial was the development of The Festivals Pill Testing Policy by ACT Health, which provides guidance to promoters on the provision of drug testing services at festivals into the future. 

The centre is open every Thursday and Friday and is located on the ground floor of the City Community Health Centre. The service is free and confidential. 

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