On-site testing of 'party drug' pills could reduce the harms caused by drug use and potentially save lives, according to an independent review of Australia's National Drug Strategy, published in the open access Harm Reduction Journal.

Dr Andrew Groves at Deakin University, Australia, examines evidence in support of pill testing to reduce fatalities caused by 'party drugs' such as ecstasy and methamphetamines, at festivals, clubs and raves. Pill testing involves party-goers having a sample of their drugs tested on-site by scientists and drug experts. They then receive information about what is in their drug, with the option of keeping the drug or anonymously handing it over.

Dr Andrew Groves, corresponding author, said: "The most surprising finding of our research is that the evidence has clearly identified the inadequacy of existing punitive, zero tolerance strategies across several countries, and yet such policies often remain embedded in government legislative action. While we still need further evaluation of how best to implement pill testing and other harm reduction initiatives, the evidence suggests that they are useful and there is widespread support from the community and practitioners in the field. The debate must be about harm, rather than criminality."

In the review, the author evaluated examples of drug policies around the world, including Portugal, where the government has implemented pill testing, as part of much broader policy reforms including the decriminalisation of the possession of drugs. This led to drug use being viewed as a public health concern, rather than a criminal issue and reduced problematic drug use and its related harms.