Urgent warning reignites calls to fix serious problem affecting young Aussies

A health alert flagging the presence of dangerous MDMA tablets in circulation has reignited calls for the NSW government to introduce pill testing.

Every year many young Australians die after taking unregulated, untested pills which is why drug-checking advocates, including medical bodies, continue to urge state governments to adopt pill testing trials.

NSW Health released an urgent public health alert on Friday warning people of three types of "high-dose MDMA tablets" circulating through the state which are said to contain up to twice the average amount of MDMA commonly found in tablets.

"The health risks from MDMA are greatly increased if high amounts (including multiple doses) are consumed over a short period," Medical Director of the NSW Poisons Information Centre, Dr Darren Roberts, said in the alert.

Following the release, Aussies across the state are once again calling for pill testing to be made available in NSW, reiterating that complete prohibition doesn't stop people from taking drugs, so "at least make it as safe as as possible" through accessible testing.

Right photo is of an MDMA pill being tested. Left photo is of a bag of seized drugs.
The recent NSW Health alert has reignited the pill-testing debate online. Source: Getty

Dr David Caldicott, Clinical Lead for Pill Testing Australia and CANTest, who provide festival and fixed-site health and drug checking services in the ACT, told Yahoo News Australia that Canberra has offered other states, like NSW, free trials.

He warns that with the summer festival season almost here, the risk of harm only increases.

"We’re in for a hot summer and these drugs don’t play well with heat — they change the body's ability to regulate heat," he explained.

Despite this, and the recent deaths of two young men, aged 21 and 26, at Knockout Outdoor Festival, NSW Premier Chris Minns recently said there is still no plan for pill testing, with drug reform policy on drug checking unlikely to take place until after the drug summit in 2024.

Do you have a story about drug testing? Contact reporter Laura Koefoed at laura.koefoed@yahooinc.com

Pill-testing misconceptions

In October, Minns said there wasn’t enough evidence pill testing would save more lives and that it would only identify toxic or unknown substances but would not screen for drug potency, therefore it wouldn’t reduce the likelihood of overdose.

Caldicott says this is a very common misconception, but explained to Yahoo News the testing they do in the ACT has a higher level of sophistication than that.

"A lot of people think pill testing is just about identifying misrepresented drugs, such as identifying other drugs in an MDMA pill, but we can also identify, at the point of testing, the potency and dose," he said.

Dr David Caldicott holds a bag representing the pills in one image. In the other an MDMA pill is being screened.
Dr David Caldicott holds a bag representing the pills that were expected to be brought into ACT pill testing facilities in 2019. Source: Getty

Aussies online in favour of pill-testing

Since the alert, many people in NSW have shared how this is just another example of why pill-testing should be made available like it is in the ACT and QLD.

"We have tried every type of prohibition and nothing has worked, so why not try something new [pill-testing]?" one person commented.

"I'm not a fan of illegal drugs. Never used and probably won't. But I do think we should be selling pill testing kits at chemists. Treat them almost like pregnancy tests, and normalise it," another shared.

This widely supported sentiment online is backed up by survey data. According to the 2019 Australian Election Study, where 2179 people were surveyed, and 63% of Australians said they supported pill testing.

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.