Preventing overdoses in Southeast Asia: Can Australia’s CanTEST model be the answer?

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Southeast Asian nations, including Thailand where drug use remains a significant issue, should consider adopting the model of Australia’s first permanent health and drug checking service, CanTEST, which was launched in Canberra around nine months ago.

Operating on a harm-reduction basis, CanTEST aims to ensure the safety of drug users by preventing adverse reactions. The service is entirely confidential, with no ID required, and is offered free of charge. Users are asked to sign a waiver stating that they understand the risks associated with drug use.

However, CanTEST goes beyond drug checking by providing health professionals or peer educators to offer tailored information, counselling, and advice to users based on their specific test results. This proactive approach keeps the users informed about their health and safety. Stephanie Stephens, Services Manager at CanTEST, said…

“We do not tell them that they must not do this or should not do this. But we will give them recommendations and advice that they can decide on about their drug use.”

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Stephens believes that countries in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, could learn from and implement the CanTEST model, citing cost-effectiveness compared to overdose management in hospitals. She also noted the support CanTEST has received from the local Canberra community, which has not encountered any opposition.

The facility is located in central Canberra, within easy reach of public transport, and facilitates access for users who want their drugs tested. Since its inception, over 800 users have accessed the service.

Dr David Caldicott, Clinical Lead for Pill Testing Australia and CanTEST, emphasised that the success of the model lies in its communication strategy. By providing accurate, evidence-based information about specific drugs and their potential effects, they avoid exaggeration and promote honesty. The facility has established a two-tier warning system, with yellow warnings issued for less severe risks and red alerts for more dangerous findings.

One user, a 21-year-old known as Rosie, praised the service, stating…

“It’s good to have this health and drug testing centre in my local community. CanTEST will give choices as to whether you will use a type of drug and how much you can use safely, and not overdose on it.”


Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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