The latest Queensland overdoses confirm the predictions made by many Australian health experts about summer with multiple overdoses of unknown drugs. This has led to renewed attention to “drug testing” and “pill checking” to inform drug users about the substances they are ingesting.
The Australian Drug Summit in Canberra, April this year, reached a consensus that drug-checking at music festivals should be considered a priority.
However, elected Australian officials and law enforcement remain concerned that such an undertaking will send the wrong message to consumers and, perhaps more importantly, their electorate.
Consumers are taking matters into their own hands in the resulting policy vacuum. They intuitively understand the importance of testing drugs in today’s market and are now resorting to what is available.
This is usually in the form of simple color-changing kits, which can be purchased online for as little as $20-50. Paraphernalia that could be linked to drug consumption in the US can lead to criminal charges. However, this is not the case in Australia.
Are DIY drug tests possible?
The majority of drug testing kits are based on the Marquis testing kit. Eduard Marquis developed it in the late 19th-century. He developed it as a color test to detect specific chemical groups.
It is known for causing a distinct color change when MDMA or “ecstasy” is present, turning dark purple or black. Additional reagents can be used in the proper order to provide additional information about whether or not other compounds are present.
Although drug reagent tests may not be as reliable as lab tests, the fact that users stop to think is a good sign.
Law enforcement has used these reagents as a presumptive test for many decades. Some jurisdictions still have them. This might explain some of the faith the consuming community has in them.
Although they may be able to give an idea of the type of drug involved in a bust, they can only be used as a rough guide, mainly if they are used to decide whether to consume a product. The mechanism behind these color changes remains a mystery.
The dance community used these tests in Europe and America shortly after ecstasy became mainstream in the mid-1990s. Pill testing was initially a consumer initiative to counter an increasingly toxic market.
This was an effective way for health care professionals to get in touch with drug users and, surprisingly, encourage them to reduce their drug intake. The initiative was successful in countries where reducing harm from drugs was a priority. It was unsuccessful in countries where it was intended to eliminate all drugs.
We compared this type of reagent testing with the best laboratories in the early 2000s out of South Australia’s Enchanted Forest Raves.
We made two main points: The results of tests can change how consumers use drugs. Reagent testing was not as accurate as laboratory testing.
More dangerous and new drugs
Fast forward to the present era, and the Australian market has become more dangerous than ever. There are now more drugs than ever before compared to a decade ago.
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There are new drugs that other analytical chemists do not quickly analyze monthly. It is not surprising that there is a growing gap between laboratory analysis and simple reagent tests.
Pill testing has become a global function, not only to prevent excessive drug use but also as a way to keep tabs on a rabid marketplace.
A student union at The University of Melbourne launched a new initiative to test pills. They used reagent testing as an interim measure while petitioning their university for more advanced testing.
If the literature is well-researched, reagent testing can be mitigated. It may still be helpful if the consumer is aware of the limitations of the test.
High purity MDMA (over 200mg per tablet in Europe this year) and other psychoactive substances would be challenging to detect using agent testing.
Proper lab pill testing is essential.
These scenarios would be detected by the analytical testing suggested by medical advocates. Pill testing should be done in broad daylight by someone sober and well-versed about the meaning of the results.
Ecstasy hospital presentations double
Four Corners reports the growing pressure on the Government to reconsider its harsh stance on party drug use.
It is not a good idea to test your drugs while under the influence.
We are proud of those who are trying to reduce their drug use. The risks they take are much more significant than any generation before them. We know that there is a need for reagent kits as personal sales have increased by more than 1,000 percent in the past year.
We would love to provide detailed information to consumers about their products, which would discourage them from using them, and also give valuable information about the market.
Although reagent testing may still be helpful for some, it does not provide us with the same level of detail about Australia as we do from other sources.
Formal market analysis — including pill testing at music festivals as part of a more comprehensive early warning system that includes hospitals, ambulances, and static testing points — could save lives. It may also change how young Australians use drugs.