Precious lives

In a state first, the Victorian coroner has recommended illicit drug testing be made available to the public, in a bid to combat drug related deaths. Picture: UNSPLASH

By Andrew Cantwell

All parents know that the caring doesn’t stop when our kids turn into young adults.

Sure, we step back a little and loosen the reins – hoping the lessons we’ve shared through their childhood have translated into sound judgment and good decision-making skills.

Too many of us see that once the parental shackles are shaken off we get a smile in return for our good advice, and our kids do what they want anyway.

And we’re there to help them clean up and recover when things don’t happen the way they expect.

Mostly, that’s okay.

But taking off the kid gloves also means bracing for potential bad news – a car going too fast, a few drinks too many, or simply being out of their depth in a situation … and then the late-night visit from some stoic police with the bad news.

The truth is that, sadly, some decisions they will never get a chance to recover from, despite the best information we’ve tried to drum into them.

For 22-year-old Pakenham man Jeremy*, it was a bag of pills he thought was the ‘party’ drug MDMA.

He’d planned ahead for a good night out with friends and had bought the pills in advance, as he’d done before.

A coroner’s report into his death in 2016 – released last week – was clinical in laying out his last conscious hours before taking the pills, which had turned out to be a toxic mix of new ‘designer’ drugs, and not the MDMA he had expected.

The efforts of Jeremy’s friends, emergency paramedics and hospital staff to save him were in vain, the coroner recorded.

And Jeremy never knew that his good planning was also in vain – drug dealers don’t need to tell the truth and are not bound by consumer law’s ‘fit for purpose’ penalties.

The coroner concluded that what may have saved Jeremy was the knowledge of what was actually in the pills.

Jeremy was one of five drug-related deaths in 2016-2017 probed by the coroner.

A State backed drug testing service was the key recommendation.

But that recommendation presents us with a dilemma – will we tolerate the illegal drugs trade that much.

Or do we do as some experts say, and recognise that some of our young adults make dumb decisions in buying drugs – but that with pill testing they are in a better position to make the best dumb decision available to them – and potentially save their lives.

I have not been a fan of pill testing – but I also have a loved one whose dabbling with party drugs has in the past spiralled in and out of addiction.

As a parent I’m not content to leave them to play ‘russian roulette’ on a bad buy.

In some ways the pill testing debate has parallels and contrasts with the voluntary euthanasia debate of some years ago.

Those seeking assisted dying want a permanent escape from the agony of their lives and expect the outcome is final; whereas those seeking party drugs want a temporary escape from the dullness of their lives and expect to be able to do it again.

In both cases those involved should be entitled to the best advice available.

I know from experience that bad decisions in search of a good time take us to places we’d prefer not to go.

We simply can’t deny that recreational drug use exists and that our kids are involved.

And no amount of denial can replace the hard truth that, where our kids are concerned, we’d prefer to educate them than to mourn them.

– Andrew Cantwell