A Melbourne-based harm reduction organization that has been testing ecstasy tablets at raves is getting unwelcome attention from the South Australia state government and the federal government of Prime Minister John Howard. Last week, faced with threats of arrest by South Australia state police, Enlighten Harm Reduction, the group that tests pills for content and purity, agreed to quit doing the tests. This Tuesday, the federal government got in the act, with parliamentary health secretary Chris Pyne demanding the group reveal its funding sources and its drug testing protocols.
Although Enlighten has been doing pill-testing at raves for five years, South Australia's Controlled Substances Act requires that the group have a permit. The South Australia government refused to issue a permit and threatened the group with arrest, Enlighten told the Sydney Morning Herald at the end of November.
The issue has been coming to a head for months, since Enlighten went ahead with pill-testing at July's winter Enchanted Rave party despite the opposition of the police and the state government. At that party, the group tested 50 pills, and one young woman discarded hers after it was found to contain ketamine.
Enlighten founder Johnboy Davison told the Herald last week the group would be at last weekend's Summer Enchanted Rave, but it would not do pill-testing. Instead, party-goers would have to run their own tests. "We'll be selling the testing kits, we always sell the testing kits because there's nothing illegal about them," he said. "We just simply won't be demonstrating their use and offering advice on the tests we usually perform for people on their pills."
Enlighten had the support of Enchanted organizer Daniel Michael, who told the Herald testing helped ensure the safety of his clientele. "Ecstasy consumption is on the rise not just at things like dance parties but very significant consumption in other areas pubs, clubs, people's homes, etc.," he said. "So the kind of research that we get and the kind of knowledge that the professionals gain from pill testing is really important, but we don't have that because of political and moral issues."
The national government evidently has some of those issues, too. After the Winter Enchanted Rave, which went on with no pill-testing by Enchanted and resulted in three overdose emergencies, parliamentary health secretary Chris Pyne sent his letter to Enlighten demanding the group reveal its finances. Pill-testing sends "mixed messages," Pyne said, adding that drug dealers could be exploiting the group to sell drugs.
Johnboy Davison was having none of it. He told the Herald private donors funded his group and accused Pyne of engaging in "lazy politics." While the national government has rejected pill-testing, Davison said that was bad public policy. "It's a public health issue and we're trying to reduce harm," he said.