With another 40 festival goers arrested over the weekend at Godskitchen in Melbourne, the issue of illegal drug use at music events has hit the media spotlight again.
News of the Melbourne arrests coincides with recent media reports which suggest that the push for harm minimisation measures like pill testing have gained significant momentum.
Talks are ongoing between pill testing advocates and high-level law enforcers and government officials from around Australia, and there’s a growing number who appear to be both “sympathetic” and “interested” in a trial of pill testing to reduce the number of deaths from illegal fillers, fluctuating purity level ands dangerous practises like ‘loading up’ – where users take a large amount of drugs at once so they cannot be caught for drug possession.
It is understood that pill testing will now be conducted legally at a number of music festivals in the upcoming season, but not in NSW.
The NSW Police Force and Baird Government have labelled the pill-testing project illegal and refuse to give permission, even for a trial. Instead, both remain steadfastly committed to sniffer dog detection programs which have received a criticism for their inaccuracy, expense and ineffectiveness at deterring the use of drugs.
The presence of sniffer dogs at concerts and festivals has also been blamed for causing several deaths through loading up.
Tragic stories like that of James Monroe, who died after taking three ecstasy tablets at once at the defqon music festival when he saw sniffer dogs and panicked, are backed up by research including a study by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre which found that the presence of sniffer dogs resulted in a 13% increase in people consuming all their drugs at once.
The same study found that the presence of sniffer dogs resulted in a 40% increase in the use of ecstasy, methamphetamine and other ‘harder’ drugs over cannabis, because cannabis is viewed as easier to detect.
Pill testing allows users to have the composition and purity of their drugs tested at music festivals, warning them about deadly fillers and high purity levels. This gives users an informed choice about whether to take the drugs and, if so, how much.
Pill testing programs have been used for years at music events in several European countries, including the Netherlands and Portugal, with great success.
Musicians, festival organisers and the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation have been calling for nationwide pill testing at music festivals for years.
Pill testing would not combat the problem of illegal drug taking, but experts say we cannot ignore the tragic and potentially avoidable consequences of young people consuming drugs that contain deadly fillers and high purity levels. They believe pill testing is certain to save lives.
A spate of drug-related tragedies in 2014 and 2015 was the worst ever seen in Australia and contributed to high profile festival Steresonic taking a hiatus.
Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation President Alex Wodak and Canberra physician David Caldecott, who are leading the charge on making pill-testing at music festivals legal, say they want to include NSW festivals with or without permission from the state government. While they have not named the jurisdictions currently involved in negotiations, the pair have confirmed they are now making final plans to implement a system of testing for next summer’s festival season.
Dr Caldecott says he recent hospitalisation of two teenagers who collapsed after using drugs at the Groovin’ the Moo festival in Maitland should serve as a warning. In the same weekend, two people were hospitalised for suspected drug overdoses at the Midnight Mafia dance party in Sydney.
Patient data from 59 New South Wales hospital emergency departments shows a steady increase in the number of ecstasy-related presentations for people aged 16 to 24, whose admissions rose from 413 in 2010 to 814 by 2015.
Pill testing is just one way to help stem the flow of young people into our hospitals and graveyards. It is hoped our governments will see some sense, and help save lives by authorising and supporting harm minimisation measures like pill testing.