Media Release: Uniting Church statement on pill testing following the NSW coronial inquest into festival deaths

15 October

The Uniting Church Synod of NSW & ACT has some congregations offering to make available church sites if the NSW government moves to provide community-based pill testing.

The offer comes ahead of the release of the findings of a coronial inquest into a string of recent deaths at music festivals which is expected to make a recommendation about the effectiveness of pill testing. 

The Moderator of the Uniting Church NSW and ACT, Rev. Simon Hansford, said the church is very concerned about illicit drugs but is committed to people being safe.

The Uniting Church has already had a number of congregations across Sydney express interest in hosting a pill testing trial.

“The church is a strong advocate of changing our current approach by offering people who use drugs help and treatment rather than criminalising them and driving them into the shadows,” he said. “Pill testing can be the first opportunity someone has to talk to a health professional about drug use and its inherent risks.”

“This advocacy is not just theoretical; we would be willing to work with the authorities to provide a place where drugs can be checked, as part of a wider effort to curb unnecessary deaths at music festivals and elsewhere.”

Two decades ago Uniting’s Wayside Chapel established, A Tolerance Room, for heroin users. It proved to be an important stepping stone, leading the government to establish what was then the first medically supervised injecting centre in the English- speaking world.

Since the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (Uniting MSIC) in Kings Cross was established 18 years ago, it has been run by Uniting, the service and advocacy arm of the Uniting Church NSW.ACT.

In 2016 the Church passed two resolutions calling on governments to direct greater investment in demand and harm reduction practices and the further decriminalisation of personal drug use – the only church in the world to do so.

 “We strongly believe there is merit in decriminalising the personal use of drugs and to increase treatment options for those in the community who have a problem with drugs,” Rev Hansford said.

It is estimated that at least 200,000 people who need Alcohol and Other Drug treatment services each year are denied access because of a lack of funding.

A mother living in Dubbo, requiring residential rehab treatment for a drug dependency with her children has to travel 400km to somewhere like Jarrah House in Sydney to access the treatment she needs to get well,” Rev Hansford said.

To demonstrate the reality of this tragedy, the Uniting Church and its advocacy and services agency Uniting NSW/ACT in October last year organised an extraordinary walk involving community leaders and the public from Dubbo to Parliament House Sydney.

The Long Walk to Treatment involved 100 walkers, who covered 500,000 steps over 15 days. It was aimed at showing political leaders that more must be done to help people in the rural Australia, particularly women and children who are struggling with addiction.

For interview requests of the Moderator, Rev. Simon Hansford contact:

Steph O'Connell, Head of Communications and Public Affairs on StephO@nswact.uca.org.au or media@nswact.uca.org.au