Angela Gock is a Health Law Research Associate of Professor Thomas Faunce at the Australian National University.
An Australian-first music festival pill testing trial could be just around the corner, but it’s still waiting for the green light from one key stakeholder — Groovin The Moo promoters Cattleyard Promotions.
Whether due to indecision or administration on Cattleyard’s part, I want to make it clear what it would mean for the company to agree to a pill testing trial at the Canberra leg of Groovin The Moo 2018.
Pill testing does not promote illegal drug use. Instead, it has led to reduced drug-related hospitalisations at a number of festivals overseas.
Recreational drug use involves a cost-benefit and risk analysis: first, law enforcement detection at the gate and in the venue; second, poor product safety; and third, risks to health.
Pill testing is not a precondition for accepting these risks, because pill testing does not remove risk. It better informs the risk taker (on contaminants, adulterants, allergies), but does not render the substance ‘safe’.
In a statement to triple j earlier this month, Cattleyard Promotions said, “Some of the complexities that we are working through involve clarification around patron protection and legal ramifications for those who participate. We are also working through guidelines relating to insurances and liability.”
The Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE) pill testing consortium — the group attempting to launch a pill testing trial at Groovin The Moo’s Canberra leg — has offered Cattleyard Promotions legal immunity for the consortium’s proposed trial.
This certainly leaves little cause for hesitation, especially given the trial is also supported by Groovin The Moo’s Canberra venue, local law enforcement and the ACT Government.
It would be unreasonable to impose legal liability on pill ‘testers’. If a test reveals uncontaminated MDMA, free of bath salts, PMA, DXM, BZP or whatever acronym comes to mind, this is not a thumbs-up to consume.
Pill testing is not a rival to the so-called ‘war on drugs’. Pill testing doesn’t prevent the long-term objective of abstinence, nor does it promote it, but this is immaterial, because the ‘war on drugs’ has failed.
Criminalisation is not a deterrent. Drug use has been embedded in Australian culture for decades, despite colonial import taxes, post-60s counterculture reform and existing legislative instruments.
So, the choice of Cattleyard Promotions is twofold: be stubborn, or be pragmatic.
Pill testing is the only legitimate and feasible harm reduction option. It’s a ‘war on drugs’ in the short-term, but in the name of public health.
Drug use thrives in the shadows until a death comes to light. Most drug users don’t have knowledge of contaminants in the substances they’re taking (or the extent of them), and policymakers lack accurate data.
Pill testing will provide the statistics required to re-evaluate regulation and resource allocation, and will help drug users assess risks and alter their habits.
Pill testing is a public good. Whether Cattleyard Promotions’ issue is with the concepts of ‘illegal drugs’ or ‘drug use’, it isn’t with pill testing.
This is a call to Groovin The Moo. Don’t turn pill testing into a thought experiment. Don’t let pill testing become a moo point.
A moo point?
Groovin The Moo is scheduled to take place in Wayville, Maitland, Canberra, Bendigo, Townsville and Bunbury between April and May.