Presenting author: Bronwyn Hendry
Presenting author biography:
Bronwyn Hendry is CEO, Directions Health Services. She has extensive experience working in collaboration to deliver innovative programs that better meet the needs of the community and disadvantaged populations in mental health and AOD sectors. Bronwyn is AICD Graduate and Director on ATODA (ACT’s peak) and CAHMA (peer organisation) boards.
CanTEST, Australia’s first fixed-site drug checking service: Enablers, successes, and lessons learnt from the ACT’s health and drug checking pilot
Bronwyn Hendry, Stephanie Stephens, Chris Gough, Stephanie Tzanetis, David Caldicott, Malcolm Mcleod
CanTEST, Health and Drug Checking service (CanTEST), is Australia’s first fixed-site drug checking service. CanTEST commenced operations as a six-month pilot in July 2022, funded by ACT Government Health Directorate. Located in Canberra’s CBD, CanTEST offers free and confidential drug checking, health care and harm reduction information. CanTEST is the result of years of advocacy combined with a robust partnership between Directions Health Services, Pill Testing Australia (PTA) and Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy. Several socio-political factors and events contributed to an optimal environment for the implementation of CanTEST. The two government-sanctioned drug checking services at Groovin the Moo (2018/19) music festivals conducted by PTA and subsequent evaluation provided evidence of positive outcomes and changes in drug use in response to the information provided. The most recent policy shift to a more health-focused, less punitive approach to drug laws in the ACT, combined with strong community support, has contributed to the successful establishment of the fixed-site service.
The innovative service model reflects the range of expertise and experience within the partner organisations, including analytical chemists, nurses, counsellors, peer educators, on-call medical officers and clinical toxicologist. High-quality forensic-grade substance analysis is integrated with test results, counselling, harm reduction and health advice. In the first two months the pilot has experienced steady increase in patronage and has proactively informed and engaged the community in a conversation around drug use and harm reduction. CanTEST has been instrumental in identifying novel and noteworthy substances and has positively contributed to the local drug early warning system. The service has been well received in the ACT and created significant interest nationally. Challenges and learnings identified include complex resourcing, governance arrangements and compliance requirements. Evidence from the external evaluation by ANU Medical School will inform future services in the ACT and other Australian jurisdictions.