New colour changing drug identification kits used in Australia

Feb 7, 2019

Australian authorities are recommending drug users to invest in a legal, do-it-yourself, colour change drug test, known as a pill testing kit, to analyze the contents of their drugs before consumption.

The recommendation comes after the occurrence of multiple drug overdoses and several deaths during Australian summer festivals. Several Australian universities and advocacy groups have started to hand out pill testing kits to students free of charge.

Pill testing is an approach aimed at harm reduction, and is a chemical test designed to identify harmful and unexpected ingredients which could be added to drugs without consumers’ knowledge, which could result in overdose and death.

In Australia, drug checking facilities often exist in locations where illicit drug use may commonly occur, such as music festivals, clubs or dance parties. These facilities allow consumers to be informed about their drugs’ ingredients by testing drug samples in real time, decreasing risk of harm to users.

These pill kits include a glass vial with a ‘reagent’ chemical designed to produce a reaction with small samples of a drug by changing colour. The resulting colour is then matched to a provided colour chart, which reveals the purity or cut of the tested drug. The pill-kit is a single-use test and can be legally purchased in select convenience stores and other shops in Australia.

In his interview with Australia’s news site, Dr. Stephen Bright, professor in addiction studies at the Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, said the government’s campaign “Just Say No” aimed to decrease drug use is not effective. “Ecstasy in Australia is one of the most dangerous in the world and the chemicals going in with this drug are becoming more dangerous as well,” he said. “In the past few years, nearly 500 new drugs have been identified, so the stakes have never been higher.”

Compared to European countries that share similar reported data, Australia has the second highest total estimated consumption of the four most common stimulants: methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and amphetamine. Similar programs have been implemented in Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Luxembourg and France. A research study carried out in Austria revealed that 50% of individuals who had their drugs tested stated that their results affected their consumption choices. Moreover, over 60% of study participants revealed that they would not consume a drug if negative results were found.

Australia’s drug testing programs typically work together with emergency services and local health organisations to promote their programs and services available. This collaborative approach has the potential to reduce stigma around substance use, and encourage drug users to seek support in the community.