After giving tragic news to many families, I can't support pill testing

During my time in the NSW Police Force, I knocked on too many doors to deliver a tragic message to parents about the avoidable death of their child to simply turn a blind eye to the evils of illegal drugs.

There are many scenes in my mind I wish I could erase, but will live with me forever. They spur me on to do all I can to prevent other police officers or frontline workers from delivering that same tragic message.

An inevitable trauma follows the awful words you deliver - words that are never quite right, and that cut so deep you know the recipient will never fully recover. This is what informs my opposition to pill testing.

My most vivid memory from my 22-year policing career is standing next to a mother in an emergency ward, holding the hand of her lifeless son. He was lost in the most senseless way. I was trying my best to comfort her.

Her response was to launch herself at me. She thumped my chest and continued whacking me while wailing. It was a gut-wrenching and primal scream I can still hear: “Bring back my son! Give me back my son!” That mother is a victim of a pointless death, and her situation is one I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Two young people died at the Defqon.1 music festival at Penrith on Saturday. Photo: Jessica Aquilina

Two young people died at the Defqon.1 music festival at Penrith on Saturday. Photo: Jessica Aquilina

Unfortunately, while this scene is a reality for police, they are not alone in dealing with the deadly consequences of illegal drugs. Paramedics, doctors and nurses are also faced with the heavy burden of having to tell someone their loved one is dead or seriously injured after taking illegal drugs.

I’m well aware illegal drugs have been a major part of our society for a long time, and that the "war on drugs" is considered futile by some, but I cannot sit back and wipe my hands saying "this is all too hard".

Illegal drugs are, first and foremost, illegal. They are illegal because they are dangerous to your health and often to public safety. As the father of two teenagers, it scares the hell out of me how prolific drugs have become. It appears that every year, more and more people are dabbling or, worse still, becoming addicts.

Never before have drugs been so readily available, at such an affordable price, and in so many different and crude concoctions. Given the immense pressure placed on youth today – from their peers through to social media – someone needs to stand up and say this is not the way forward.

I know not everyone agrees with me, but after all I have seen I am comfortable with my decision to say enough is enough.

That’s why I can’t support pill testing - a measure that gives people a false sense of security that their drugs are "safe". Every illegal drug, no matter what its chemistry, is inherently dangerous and no test can tell someone how a particular substance will impact on them personally. How can a pill test assure a person that their drugs will not interact badly with prescription medication, alcohol, or an individual’s physiology? It can’t. It blows my mind that some people think telling an 18-year-old that their hit of ketamine – essentially a horse tranquiliser – is good to go because it’s pure.

I will also never support a process that provides some sort of quality assurance measure for drug dealers. Drug dealers have no duty of care for their customers. They don’t care if the person taking their drugs lives or dies. They care about one thing and one thing alone – making money. They are predators pure and simple, preying on the vulnerability of young people, with zero regard for the misery and damage their products cause.

While some drug advocates seem hell bent on normalising recreational drugs, I certainly can’t support a program that sends a message that taking illegal drugs is somehow OK. Given the recent push to make drug culture socially acceptable, someone needs to stand before our young people and say your lives are valuable, your lives are worth more than a quick high.

While the police cannot arrest their way out of this issue, to green-light illegal drug taking and the dangerous criminals who profit from it is something I will never support.

Troy Grant is the NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services and a former police officer.