The APSAD Scientific Alcohol and other Drugs Conference is happening in Melbourne this week, which happens to be the southern hemisphere’s largest summit on alcohol and drugs, for those keeping track of such things.

Professor Fiona Measham is a professor of criminology who runs UK charity The Loop. They offered drug safety testing at two UK festivals last year — Secret Garden Party and Kendal Calling — and three further ones this year. The trials were done in conjunction with both the police (bobbies they call ’em) and the festival organisers.

Measham presented her findings at the conference yesterday and, not surprisingly, users knowing exactly what’s in the substances they take is beneficial in preventing harm.

“Our results show that drug safety testing can educate and empower users and recognises users as agents of change,” said Professor Measham.

“It can also make a significant contribution to broader drug policy. New psychoactive substances are proliferating and flooding international drug markets and we’re facing an  opioid crisis with fentanyl contamination.

“Drug safety testing can play a part in addressing these challenges. It’s not just about festivals, it’s not just about night clubs, it’s about how we can identify contaminants along the whole illegal drug chain in order to reduce harm, hospitalisations and hopefully, even deaths,” she explained.

“We now have robust data in terms how we deliver the service, the outcomes for individuals, the outcomes for festivals and the benefits to police and health services.”

The results show a desperate need for this service.

At Secret Garden Party, drug-related hospitalisations fell from 19 the previous year to just one. At BoomTown, drug-related medical incidents were reduced by a quarter.

Below are some dot point results, as presented by Professor Measham.

  • 1 in 5 people found they did not have the drug they thought they had. Substitutes included ground up anti-malarial tablets, household cleaner, paracetamol and concrete.
  • Upon receiving this news, around a fifth of people  handed over all their drugs for disposal.
  • An additional fifth  – who didn’t have their drugs on them – said they would dispose of them themselves.
  • Around 2 in 5 said they would take a smaller amount of their drug, and would refrain from mixing it with other substances.

It’s ignorant to assume the results would differ too much in Australia. It’s also ignorant to turn a health and safety issue into a legal one. These results show you can police drug use responsibly and effectively, while allowing users to be aware of the risks they are taking.

Drug taking should not be turned into a moral issue, unless of course we have a government actively blocking a system that has been proven to save lives. Then, it’s a clear moral failing.