This seminar reflects on the pill-testing policy debate that occurred in NSW, Australia, this summer.
We have witnessed an exceptional drug policy debate in Australia this summer regarding the availability of pill-testing services. Pill-testing is not a new intervention, and has been available across Europe for many years. This seminar reflects on the policy debate that has occurred in NSW, Australia.
Discussion: Professor Alison Ritter argues that the stalemate may be overcome with a more ‘civilised’ mode of debate that situates knowledge, engages values, is conducted with humility and encourages hesitation (following Stengers). Whether the processes underway will result in a policy shift on this issue in NSW is yet to be seen, but it is plausible that it becomes less and less likely as the heat increases (and the light diminishes).
Methods: Data were sourced from public domain sites; largely online, TV and radio media, alongside documentation of advocacy actions (such as a change.org petition) as well as other notable events regarding pill-testing (such as a public rally). These various data sources were used to analyse the public policy debate.
Results: The narratives identified in favour of pill-testing focussed on the evidence available to date, the importance of informed choice, the provision of a safety net, and accessing a population to provide information and education. The arguments against pill-testing included that there is no such thing as safe drug use, and that the evidence to date is equivocal. Both those for and against pill-testing shared the same goal - saving lives. However, the beliefs and values underpinning this goal differed.
Professor Alison Ritter is an internationally recognised drug policy scholar and the Director of the Drug Policy Modelling Program (DPMP) at the University of New South Wales. She is an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow leading a multi-disciplinary program of research on drug policy. The goal of the work is to advance drug policy through improving the evidence-base, translating research and studying policy processes.
Professor Ritter worked as a clinical psychologist in the alcohol and drug treatment sector prior to commencing full-time research. She has contributed significant policy and practice developments across alcohol and drug policy over many years. She is the immediate past President of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy, and a Senior Editor for the International Journal of Drug Policy. Professor Ritter has an extensive research grant track record and has published widely in the field.