News Release 

A $12 pill test could save the lives of first-timers

Edith Cowan University

Pill testing services at music festivals may be most effective in reducing harm for people trying ecstasy for the first time, but less so for prior users.

The new Edith Cowan University (ECU) research also found:

  • Experienced ecstasy users are no more knowledgeable than novices when it comes to safe dosage amounts and harmful ingredients.
  • Festival attendees would be willing to pay an average $12 subsidy to fund pill testing services.

The study led by Dr Ross Hollett, from the School of Arts and Humanities, looked at ecstasy-using intentions following different pill test scenarios to determine the factors that predict subsequent risky behaviour.

Over 250 music festival attendees were presented with three hypothetical pill test scenarios and reported their risk intentions, ecstasy use history and sensation seeking.

"The findings from the study suggest that people who attend a festival and might be looking to try ecstasy for the first time are most cautious after a pill test, regardless of the outcome of the test," Dr Hollett said.

"For prior ecstasy users (60 per cent of the sample), they were only more likely to reduce their harm intentions if the ecstasy contained a toxic contaminant, not if the test revealed a high dose or an inconclusive result.

"This finding is important because some of the recent ecstasy-related deaths at festivals in Australia have been linked to high doses of ecstasy," Dr Hollett said.

"Additionally, if the participant was a prior ecstasy user who was also high in sensation seeking, then they were at the greatest risk of harm, even after participating in the pill test," he said.

More education needed

Dr Hollett said introducing counselling and drug education services alongside formal pill testing could further reduce the risk of harm.

"People who had previously used ecstasy were no more knowledgeable than people who had never used ecstasy in terms of sensible doses and harmful contaminants," he said.

Festival attendees in favour of pill testing

Festival attendees surveyed indicated they would be willing to pay $12 on average to support the provision of pill testing services.

"Almost 50 per cent of ecstasy users reported they did not know or trust their supplier.

"These findings suggest that the provision of a pill checking service would greatly improve some people's ability to manage risk," Dr Hollett said.

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The study 'Risk intentions following pill test scenarios are predicted by MDMA use history and sensation seeking: A quantitative field study at an Australian music festival' is published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review. Authors: Dr Ross Hollett and Dr Natalie Gately.

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