Pill testing 'green lights' deadly ecstasy says Aussie campaigner as Kiwi defends tests

A New Zealand music festival drug tester says testing could have prevented three concert-goers being taken to hospital critically ill in Auckland on Friday night.

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Jez Watson from Know Your Stuff defends testing but Gary Christian of Drug Free Australia says testing looks for drugs that mostly don't exist. Source: Q+A

But Drug Free Australia says pill testing gives the green light to ecstasy which has been responsible for an estimated 300 deaths across the Tasman.

TVNZ1's Q+A reports New Zealand First has upset the plan of its coalition partner Labour to allow drug testing at music festivals this summer.

NZ First Law and Order spokesperson Darroch Ball says his party won't support the law change needed because testing would only "legitimise and encourage drug use".

Jez Watson of Know Your Stuff NZ told tonight's programme drug testing would give preventing hospitalisations "a damn good go" and that's why his group goes to festivals. 

He said after doing pill testing "quietly" for five years, "we've got great evidence to show that we are changing how people behave with respect to drugs, that we are giving them good advice on how to stay safe and they are following that advice and being more respectful around drugs".

But Gary Christian of Drug Free Australia said he opposes drug testing at festivals, "simply because drug testing is always looking for drugs that mostly don't exist".

"Only 11 deaths within Australia have been from other deadly drugs that have been mixed with ecstasy. And yet pill testing green lights ecstasy which has been responsible for, we estimate, about 300 deaths within Australia. 

"So when they're green lighting the very substance which is killing everybody here within Australia [testing] doesn't make any sense at all."

Mr Christian said the estimated 300 deaths is "a bit of an eyebrow raiser" but a 2010 study based on a five-year period showed 82 MDMA, or ecstasy, deaths, 16 per year on average in Australia.

"And if you generalise that over 25 years - allowing for a bit of a decline before 2010 then accelerating after that - it's around the 300 mark that we estimate have died form ecstasy, not from other drugs. There are 11 deaths form other drugs like N-BOMe or PMA, and most of them from ecstasy."

Mr Christian said Australia does everything "to facilitate drug use in this country".

"We provide needle exchange programmes. We have methadone with people on that for up to 40 years, we have injecting rooms. This is facilitating drug use, this is not prohibition in any real shape or form. It's not serious."

Asked what alternative way should drug use be treated in Australia and New Zealand, he said, "I think we've got to get serious about prevention. Harm reduction has not been working well for us in either country."

Mr Christian called for education on the effects ecstasy has on health.

Mr Watson said: "That's what we are doing, in front of people with the substances they're planning on taking."

"We know from wastewater testing New Zealanders take about 40,000 doses of MDMA per week. If it were so dangerous then we would see that in hospitals, and we don't. 

"There are risks to it but we can mitigate those risks through testing and good advice."

* Q+A is on TVNZ1 on Mondays at 9.30pm, and the episode is then available on TVNZ OnDemand and as a podcast in all the usual places.