Sending a message

You've heard it before - you propose something pragmatic to reduce the risks of drug use then someone says it would send the wrong message about drugs. The whole preoccupation with 'sending a message' is getting in the way of doing what's right. Pill testing is a great example.

Unharm volunteers set up a page where you can easily email you local MP about pill testing. The politicians are already reading the first emails, and responding.

One Unharm supporter got in touch for some talking points to deal with this response from a Victorian Liberal MP: 

‘I am concerned that a proposal such as this can confuse and undermine the basic message that these sorts of pills are harmful and shouldn’t be taken at all, and that’s why they’re illegal in the first place.’

This sounds like a tough argument but really it's all just front. Here's some ideas about how to respond:

If the message we try to send is the only thing that matters, we end up with purely symbolic policy. It's getting in the way of doing what's right.

People are using these drugs, especially young people. Very often people don’t understand the risks of what they are taking, and don’t even know what they are taking. We’ve seen over the last few summers that ignorance doesn’t keep people safe.

Messages need to be heard and need to be credible to have their intended effect. ‘Don’t do it’ is not being heard. Australia has a higher rate of ecstasy use than most other countries in the world, including countries with pill testing services.

Pill testing is a way to identify and eliminate the most dangerous drugs from use. Leaving those drugs in the market in order to send a message isn’t just ineffective. It’s immoral.

Without pill testing, people have no way of know what they have really been sold. All sorts of more dangerous substances can be passed off as ‘ecstasy’. Some of these new synthetic drugs have little or no history of human use. The message pill testing sends is: don’t trust illegal drugs. At a recent festival in the UK, 25% of people decided to dispose of their drugs after receiving the results of the test.

Pill testing services do not encourage drug use and explicitly do not endorse drugs as ‘safe’. They provide people who use illegal drugs with pragmatic and credible advice about how to reduce risks. Isn’t that what we all want?


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