Ross Fitzgerald had a completely vacuous opinion piece yesterday in The Australian advocating pill testing at music and other festivals where drug use is widespread. I say advocating deliberately because it certainly wasn’t a reasoned argument. Full of platitudes and unsubstantiated opinion it contained not a jot of research, expert opinion, comparable studies, anything that might have evidenced or supported his call for a de-facto decriminalisation of illicit drugs (which he incredibly can’t join the dots on).
In short his argument can be summarised as follows:
- Young people will take drugs regardless of legality or risks to their health / life.
- Something (even if near useless as he seems to accept) is better than nothing.
- And, one day some “progressive” moron Premier will do it anyway, so may as well be now.
For Ross the whole argument is reduced to the trite observation that:
So the question then becomes: is a tested drug safer than an untested drug? Testing does not eliminate all risks but tested drugs will always be safer than untested drugs.
On this logic lets go one step better and have government regulated or supplied drugs that are “safer”still sold instead. After all, it will “save” even more lives than pill testing with the added benefits of wiping out criminal drug cartels and providing a well needed government revenue stream to boot. Drugs could be taxed it in the same way as cigarettes. An entire government owned industry in illicit drugs is going missing on Ross’s thinking. Billions in profits and taxes from a government owned enterprise founded on “saving lives” is going unrealised. How tragic indeed. I volunteer to step up armed with a government grant of course and few ex-pollies on the board of directors (wink wink).
Ross does not believe that making drug taking “safer” won’t lead to riskier behaviour and hence a greater uptake in drug use. I’m not sure what Ross was on when making this dubious statement. I wonder how many rock climbers there would be without ropes and carabiners? How many people would skydive if not for a reserve parachute?
Increasing safety naturally reduces risk, and reducing risk will make fun, but otherwise dangerous activities, more attractive to more and more people. Risk and reward informs decision making. Remove the risk you incentivise the reward.
But does pill testing actually reduce the risk? Here Ross chooses to side with the “expertise” of an activist lawyer from the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation over the expert opinion of a forensic scientist that claims pill testing has “serious flaws” and stating it is not possible “for any equipment to identify all of the hundreds of synthetic cannabinoids, benzodiazepines, amphetamines and opiates used in recreational drugs”.
Had Ross done a scintilla of research (being the emeritus professor he is) he might have consulted a pharmacist or pharmacologist to understand that even prescription drugs can have adverse side effects depending on age, weight, sex, physical condition (e.g. hydration), medical history, can interact with other medications, and be influenced by alcohol, diet and a myriad of other factors.
In other words there is no such thing as universal “safe” dose of any drug much less something cooked up in the backyard of a criminal meth lab. Ross’s position may as well advocate the total deregulation of the PBS and health system. Apparently we do not need medical and pharmacological supervision to self-administer potentially harmful drugs.
Finally we get back to issues of moral, legal and policy issues. Ross believes that pill testing will not de-facto or actually lead to decriminalisation of drugs. This is utter tosh. If it is illegal to manufacture, distribute or be in possession of drugs how can pill testing be anything other than aiding and abetting illicit drug use?
Pill testers will become a vital part of the drug supply chain providing a product endorsement for given suppliers of drugs, boosting their product reputation, brand and hence market share. Far from being separate from drug cartels they will increasingly become legal de-facto marketers / distributors of illegal drugs. This would be a policy for disaster.
Pill testing makes zero sense. Either decriminalise drug use and government own / regulate the supply or enforce the law as it stands. That young people will do stupid things despite all of the warnings and publicly available information is not an excuse to condone illegal and harmful behaviour.
Many young people are already under the illusion that drug taking is safe which is why they are prepared to take the risk in order to receive the chemically induced reward. Pill testing simply promulgates a false perception that illicit drug use can be made safe. That will only encourage even greater drug use causing even greater unnecessary deaths.
We put images of cancer ridden smokers on cigarette packages and have run anti-smoking campaigns for years to dissuade people from smoking. No person under the age of 50 (at least) does not understand the risks of smoking and consequently smoking rates have plummeted.
That said there will always be those who despite the known risks choose to take up the habit. Just because some people make stupid choices doesn’t mean we should enable them and in doing so dilute the most important message of all which is to say no to drugs.
Instead of pill testing why not mandate billboards be erected at every music festival (and other such festivals) documenting all the young people who have died because they thought drugs were safe.
It beggars belief that Ross, being an emeritus professor of politics and history, could produce such vacuous rubbish and be published in The Australian.
For a so called policy expert Ross seems to have succumbed to the virtue signalling standard of academic malaise – anything with trendy good intentions is good enough.