Two major drug reform initiatives announced

Queensland will expand drug diversion and
introduce a drug checking service

The Queensland Government has announced two major initiatives, demonstrating a commitment to reduce the risks and harms associated with illicit drug use.

The first initiative includes legislative amendments allowing police to expand the current diversion program for cannabis, in order to divert people with small quantities of any drug for personal use to a health response, instead of the courts.

The second initiative will see the introduction of drug checking services (including pill testing) in Queensland for the first time.

Both initiatives are central features of Achieving balance: The Queensland Alcohol and Other Drugs Plan 2022–2027.

Coming off the back of the record $1.645 billion investment to improve mental health and alcohol and other drugs services, these changes also represent the State Government’s commitment to implementing the Queensland Parliamentary Mental Health Select Committee recommendations. 

Police drug diversion

Priority 3 of Achieving balance focuses on expanding diversion strategies, with clear evidence showing diversion to health responses for people who have not committed other offences can prevent a range of harms that can occur after contact with the criminal justice system.

Diversion to education and treatment offers the best opportunity to address problematic drug use and associated issues that affect individuals, families and communities.

Police diversion enables a proportionate response to people with an addiction — that is, a health problem — and allows people to get the help and treatment they need early, without fear of repercussion. 

How will diversion work?

Queensland’s Police Drug Diversion program will be expanded to include the minor possession of all types of drugs by implementing a new tiered approach:

  • 1st minor drug-possession offence - a police officer issues a warning, accompanied by a drug warning notice and a police referral to a support service.
  • 2nd and 3rd minor drug-possession offence - a police officer refers the person to participate in a Drug Diversion Assessment Program.
  • 4th minor drug-possession offence - a police officer issues the offender with a notice to appear in court.
“Instead of setting people on a criminal justice pathway, early intervention through diversion is a pragmatic approach that will improve long-term outcomes for people who use drugs.”
Queensland Mental Health Commissioner, Ivan Frkovic

Drug diversion for cannabis has been happening in Queensland for the past 10 years. Expanding the Police Drug Diversion Program to include small quantities of other substances will also reduce the cost and burden on the justice system. The program will free up police resources to focus on drug supply, and manufacturing.

“The courts get needlessly clogged with minor cases that are really a health issue. The individual doesn’t get the help they need. And police spend thousands of hours that could be better focussed on targeting the drug traffickers."
Minister for Police, Mark Ryan

Drug checking or pill testing

Priority 5 of Achieving balance focuses on reducing harm, noting that effective harm reduction interventions reduce harm before behaviours or risks become problematic.

A series of drug-related deaths at Australian music festivals since 2018 has highlighted the need for increased harm reduction strategies to prevent and reduce drug-related harm in a variety of settings.

The announcement by the Queensland Government that pill testing services will be allowed in Queensland for the first time, is an important step in reducing drug-related harm.

“Pill testing is all about harm minimisation, we don't want people ending up in our emergency departments, or worse, losing their life."
Minister for Health and Ambulance Services, Yvette D'ath

Pill testing services, at either fixed or mobile sites, will test illicit drugs to check for the presence of potentially dangerous substances, with the aim of changing behaviour and reducing the risk of harm from drug use.

Queensland Mental Health Commissioner, Ivan Frkovic said, “The reality is people will encounter and experiment with drugs, including when they go to nightclubs or attend festivals – and these drugs can harm or kill.”

“Queensland parents worried about their child potentially taking drugs should be reassured that drug checking can prevent serious harm and save lives.”
Queensland Mental Health Commissioner, Ivan Frkovic

"We need more in our toolkit to address these harms than 'just saying no', because right or wrong, people will experiment regardless," Commissioner Frkovic said.

The most important part of drug checking is the connection with a specialist alcohol and other drug worker who conducts a professional intervention with someone who already possesses a drug and intends to take it.

The intervention is an opportunity to provide information, explain the risks of drug-taking, reduce serious harm, and facilitate access to further treatment and support, where needed.

Drug checking has been trialled and tested both in Australia and internationally and is proven to be an effective intervention that reduces harm. The introduction of drug testing in Queensland follows successful trials conducted at festivals and a fixed site in Canberra.

“The fixed site drug checking trial in Canberra has proven the value of this type of service in alerting the public to particularly dangerous substances in circulation, as well as connecting people who use drugs with credible harm reduction information.”
Chief Executive Officer of the Queensland Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies, Rebecca Lang

Drug checking also means that the community can be warned about dangerous substances in circulation, and also provides vital intelligence to police an emergency services about those drugs.

Read the Ministerial media statements in full: