Toddler’s cheeky sign targets stupidity
Pressure is mounting on politicians to make significant change after the drug-related deaths of five young people in as many months.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has held firm on her opposition to pill testing, regularly telling reporters she is yet to see proof it will save lives despite numerous drug and alcohol advocacy groups presenting evidence in support of the strategy.
It's that back and forth between pill testing advocates and politicians that has Australians scratching their heads and frustrated - frustration summed up perfectly in a sign held by Sydney dad Josh Liebmann and his two-year-old son, Riley.
The Liebmanns were joined by more than 500 people at the Pill Testing Saves Lives rally at Sydney's Town Hall today, calling on the NSW Premier to change her mind about the potentially life-saving strategy.
Everyone from teenagers to grandparents attended the rally but it was Mr Liebmann's son Riley, clutching his scribbled sign, who seemed to be one of the youngest in attendance.
Speaking to news.com.au, Mr Liebmann explained why he was a keen supporter of pill testing at music festivals and why he'd brought his toddler along.
"What the government's doing isn't working so someone needs to change something. Sticking your head in the sand isn't going to change anything," Mr Liebmann said.
"I've got a two-year-old, I don't know whether or not he'll take drugs but if he does I'd like him to do it as safely as possible, when he's up to that point."
Often regarded as a young person's issue, Mr Liebmann said it was important he, as a 42-year-old, showed his support.
"I think it's important to show that there's more than just kids that want to do this. I'm 42 and I really strongly believe in this," he said.
"It's a really eclectic mix of people, different tribes, different ages ... The number of deaths is irrelevant really, it's just in my opinion the right thing to do.
"They introduced safe injecting rooms and it didn't increase the number of people doing heroin. They handed out condoms and it didn't increase the number of people having sex, so it's just the logical next step."
The rally was organised by a coalition of groups, including Keep Sydney Open and Unharm, as a way of demanding a change in policy.
"The failed war on drugs has killed our friends, family and others in our community for decades while politicians and police have wilfully ignored the mounting evidence that zero-tolerance drug policing does not work," the organisers said in a statement.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale was also in attendance, regularly garnering cheers from the crowd.
"We know testing pills doesn't guarantee safety but it's damn safer than what we're doing now," Mr Di Natale told the crowd.
"We hear this idea that having pill testing sends the wrong message ... but the message we're sending now is that if somebody makes a choice to take a drug, they should pay for that choice with their lives.
"No decent society does that."
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge also lashed the current policies around illicit drug use.
"This is a war on young people by a bunch of geriatric politicians that would be better off in South Park then in the halls of parliament," he told the crowd.
News.com.au also spoke with a number of teenagers at the rally. Two teens admitted it was the first protest they'd ever attended.
"Just all the publicising of the deaths recently, hearing about all the deaths you think, 'I need to do something,'" a 17-year-old girl, who did not wish to be named, said.
"I don't get scared taking drugs, you don't think about it in the moment but afterwards you think, 'oh f**k'."
Her friend, a 17-year-old boy, admitted he had taken illicit drugs but worried while doing it.
"I've actually done drugs and when I took them, there was a bit of those anxious thoughts of like, what if this is not what I think it is. It would just be great to know exactly what it is and feel safe when you're doing it," he said.
The rally came a day after a prominent group of doctors came out in support of pill testing trials.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, which represents more than 17,000 physicians and paediatricians, sent an open letter to Ms Berejiklian and her counterparts urging them to follow the lead of the ACT.
"Ideally, we would all like young people and the wider public not to use drugs illicitly, however, the reality is that they do in large numbers and the moral message to abstain from taking drugs is not getting through," Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones said on Friday.
They now join the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, who are also urging governments to adopt pill testing.
Pill testing involves users anonymously submitting samples for forensic analysis and feedback on the purity and composition of their drugs so they can make an informed decision on whether or not to take them.
- with wires