Without the fullest description, the pill testing equipment at Canberra's youth festival on April 29 2018, was presented as basically state of the art. To seek confirmation,  I consulted a renowned  toxicology company, and was told Infrared spectroscopy will tell you little or nothing about the dose, a key life-saving consideration in determining toxicity, and that  only testing a 'scrape' of the pill for sampling is inadequate because more than 90% of the total drug in any pill is not uncommonly in less than half of the volume -  so the only way to determine the exact contents of any pill, especially from backyard/uncontrolled preparations, is to test the entire mass of the pill, which renders it user-resistant or rejectable.

I was also informed that High Performance Liquid Chromatography - Mass Spectrometry (HPLC- MS), which is never going to be a portable instrument, is regarded as the gold standard for pill analysis but was not used at the Canberra event. It requires a very stable surface, constant and non variable electrical supply, operating environment of 20-25C etc. The best possibility might be a purpose built, air-conditioned shipping container or the like, but that’s a very expensive proposition.Typically, on higher-end instruments, it will come with a probability score, but it is virtually guaranteed that anything less than about a 98% match is just a wild guess – an analogy would be saying chimps have 98% of the same DNA as a person, but they’re quite different animals!  Less sophisticated models won’t even attempt to give you a probability match – they’ll just say whatever they think is the closest match in their library.

. Given that  pill-testing was the first in Australia at a youth festival, and to my knowledge no other jurisdiction has plans for one, it may be helpful for these particular professional - sourced views to be available for public reference.

Colliss Parrett

Director (R'td) Durgs of Dependence, Australian Department of Health

Drug Policy Adviser, Australian Family Association (A.C.T.)

Fellow, Drug Free Australia

Member, Drug Advisory Council Australia

Member, The Dalgarno Institute


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