Thursday, 9 February 2023

Questions without notice and ministers statements

Drug harm reduction


Drug harm reduction

Aiv PUGLIELLI (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (12:19): (28) My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Mental Health in the other place. Minister, yesterday morning the Victorian health department released a warning about orange ‘Nike tick’ pills being sold as MDMA and their links to several recent hospitalisations across Victoria. These pills were found to contain pentylone, a chemical that has similar effects to MDMA but lasts much less time so people consume more, thereby increasing their risk of overdose. The health department’s tweet and similar drug alerts the department has been releasing since 2020 show that the Andrews government understands that testing drugs circulating in the community saves lives and is good policy. They just refuse to make pill testing their official policy. We applaud the government’s change of stance. Now will the government start taking drug harm reduction seriously and begin a proper pill-testing trial in Victoria?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria – Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:20): I thank the member. I am going to start with that, as I do not want to stuff up your name just yet – so the lovely new member. Congratulations on your inaugural today, and thank you for your first question and your advocacy in relation to pill testing. I will have a conversation with the Minister for Mental Health, who has responsibility for drug and alcohol programs, and I am sure we will get you a response within the standing orders.

The PRESIDENT: I reckon I am getting it right: Mr Puglielli with a supplementary question.

Aiv PUGLIELLI (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (12:21): Thank you for the correct pronunciation, Chair. I thank the minister for referring the question for answer. Victoria’s current approach to drug law remains punitive, out of date and ramshackle, and that is putting people at avoidable risk. Not only do we have no system of pill testing, but there is no requirement for police to notify the health department if they encounter a dangerous substance in the community. Police have the ability to provide drug intelligence to the department before people are hospitalised and potentially save lives in the process, so I ask: will the government at least require the police to inform the department of dangerous substances in the community so health warnings can be issued to save lives?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria – Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:22): Thank you, Mr Puglielli, for your supplementary. Everything has an ocker twang with me. I cannot help it; I am sorry. I will get there.

I fear that your question is actually probably for the Minister for Police, because you are asking for a requirement for police to report to the Department of Health, but I do recognise the nexus. I feel that we are going to have a lot of conversations about drug reform this term, and there are a lot of interesting things going on across government. One of my responsibilities is VIFM, and they do a lot of work on testing of new and emerging drugs and concerns and making sure that police and health authorities have got the latest information about these emerging trends – particularly the ones that you referred to in relation to the more dangerous ones – and trying to get warnings out for the community who might be consuming things about avoiding particular types. There is a lot of work going on, and I think we can have a conversation about this. Your specific question I will refer to Minister Williams and see how we can get you a bit of a response on that, but I am sure we can have further conversations about what the government is doing in relation to harm minimisation in relation to illegal drugs.