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Three new party drugs sniffed out at pill testing site

Three new recreational drugs have been discovered at Australia's only fixed pill testing site, prompting health warnings with the effects not yet understood.

Scientists have sniffed out three new recreational drugs at Australia's only fixed pill testing site.

The party drugs have similar effects to MDMA, also known as ecstasy, and ketamine, which is used as a medical anaesthetic. 

They were discovered by a team of scientists at the Australian National University's CanTEST site in Canberra. 

Professor Malcolm McLeod, who made the discoveries, says it's not yet known how dangerous the new drugs are.

"We don't know how it will affect people or what the health consequences are," Prof McLeod said.

One of the samples, which the would-be user thought was a stimulant with similar effects to amphetamines, also included methamphetamine and MDMA.

The discoveries come amid a wider debate in Australia about pill testing in other states after several people overdosed at summer music festivals. 

Advocates have acknowledged that while testing is not a panacea, it greatly increases harm minimisation with people discarding potentially lethal substances.

More pill testing sites would mean more lives saved, ACT Population Health Minister Emma Davidson said. 

"People take drugs and it is a health issue. Australians cannot make safer choices unless they have access to the right support and services such as pill testing," she told AAP.

"A national network will mean greater access for people to pill test and help minimise harm to the individual and their community."

The NSW government was focused on making music festivals as safe as possible, state Health Minister Ryan Park said.

Ryan Park says pill testing will be discussed at a forum like a drug summit.

But he wouldn't commit to pill testing, saying the two jurisdictions were different and instead pointed to increasing first aid, ensuring access to water and improving messaging at festivals. 

"We've got a much bigger population, much more festivals and we've got to make sure that we are making them as safe as possible," he told Sky News.

Governments needed to stay vigilant as new drugs are "worryingly discovered amidst the community", federal opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said.

"Illicit drugs are an insidious scourge on our community, causing health and social impacts that can have far-reaching consequences for users and their loved ones," she said.

Harm reduction strategies such as pill testing were a matter for the states and territories, the federal health department said.

"Illicit drug use contains inherent risks and taking even a known substance can result in unintended harm," the department said in a statement. 

"Drug checking may not be able to identify all components in an illicit substance and does not take into account any underlying health conditions a person may have."

The Canberra testing site also discovered a new ketamine-like drug in October 2022, which had not been seen in Australia before. 

Almost one in five now discard their drugs at the clinic, Ms Davidson said. 

Scientists triggered a health alert in late 2022 after discovering a potentially lethal opioid in pills that were falsely sold as oxycodone. 


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