South-west residents have had bad reactions to novel psychoactive substances (NPS) because they were unaware of the ingredients, according to WRAD Health.
This and fears for the safety of people who purchase substances without knowing what is in them has prompted the organisation to join 77 community agencies calling for the introduction of a drug checking system to save lives in Victoria.
The Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association (VAADA) in collaboration with RMIT University has released a statement supported by 77 health and community agencies highlighting the dire need for a drug checking and enhanced public alert system to be implemented in Victoria.
VAADA initiated the campaign to call on the state government to adopt the unequivocal recommendation of the Coroners Court of Victoria to create a drug checking service for the state, believing this will save lives and provide information on emerging harmful substances prior to consumption.
The campaign is in response to a surge in fatal overdose of NPS, which mimic established substances but are often more harmful.
WRAD Health acting chief executive officer Mark Powell said the proposed testing service aligned with WRAD Health's focus on harm reduction.
"Unfortunately, people can purchase substances online or from dealers but not really know what they're getting," Mr Powell said.
"Obviously safest use is no use but we live in a world where people have access to these substances and are going to experiment, so we want to make that as safe as possible."
He said WRAD Health was aware of anecdotal reports about local people having bad reactions to NPS because they weren't aware of the ingredients.
Mr Powell said drug testing services at events or as a standalone service would allow people to find out what is in their drugs while helping them make more informed decisions.
"NPS contributed to the deaths of 47 people in 2021-22 which is a shocking statistic," he said.
"The worst part of it is that many of these deaths could have been prevented."
Testing also creates opportunities for drug education. "We know that every time someone tests a substance, services have an opportunity to talk to that person about their substance use," Mr Powell said.
A testing process can also lead to broader public warnings.
"If bad ingredients are detected, we can be proactive and send out harm reduction messages to the community," Mr Powell said.
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