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  • Writer's pictureDASA

Pill Testing

Currently there is debate about whether “pill testing” should be provided at music festivals to those concerned about the safety and composition of a recreational drug pill. The State Government in NSW for example has stated that their experts have advised against it. However, there have been a number of drug overdoses at festivals, including 5 fatalities since September 2018 in NSW alone. While a coroner’s report into these deaths has yet to be released, MDMA (ecstasy) may be a contributing factor in at least several of these cases.

We know that people consume illicit pills at music festivals. Pill testing may be a pragmatic way of reducing harm (including deaths) at these events.

How does it work? • It is done near medical services at events. • There is an explanation that the test does not guarantee safety. It just tells what is found in the sample. • The person gives a small sample of their drug to a scientist who photographs and weighs it then puts it under an infrared spectrometer which can tell what is in the sample. • They then have a consultation with another professional to discuss their options now they have an indication as to what is in their pill.

Toxicology scientists have expressed some concern that the testing process has limitations. They argue that: • Not all proposed drug testing methods are accurate. Onsite testing kits are fast and easy but are unlikely to detect potentially dangerous contaminants. • The whole pill would need to be tested, as potential drugs are not necessarily distributed through the pill evenly. • New designer drugs are emerging all the time and it may not be possible to detect these.

Pill testing is not new or rare. It is done in countries such as the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Spain and France. A number of medical groups (1) have expressed concern at the number of drug-related deaths occurring at music festivals and support further trials of pill testing.

The DASA Ecstasy Fact Sheet is available free of charge. If you'd like to obtain a copy, email us at

(1)The Australian College of Emergency Medicine, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians including the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine and the Australian Medical Association

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