Experts are calling for pill testing to become part of the Australian festival experience, so users know exactly what’s in the drugs they’re thinking of taking.
Last night, the ABC‘s 7:30 Report saw Dr David Caldicott, who monitors drugs in hospital emergency departments, suggest that pill testing at Australian festivals would minimise harm because, as he says, “the idea of a drug-free Australia is ludicrous”.
“All around Europe there are programs in place where drug checking occurs very regularly, to the extent, say, for example, in Switzerland where they bring a shipping container worth of analytical equipment to some of the biggest raves in Switzerland for the purposes of identifying drugs straight from the consumer and feeding back directly to the consumer,” Caldicott told 7:30.
“We know for a fact that when there is a pill-testing program in place, that consumers actually change their behaviour. If the result of a test on a pill is something other than what they thought it would be, they frequently elect to abandon taking that pill. And we have the opportunity to let them know and interface with them about how they can moderate their behaviour.”
Earlier this month, a 19-year-old man died and a 20-year-old man was left in a critical condition after attending Sydney’s A State Of Trance festival. Police are still investigating claims the men were competing in a game to see who could take the most drugs.
The 19-year-old’s death and the 20-year-old’s health scare came just three months after 19-year-old Georgina Bartter died after reportedly taking ecstasy at Sydney’s Harbourlife festival.
Dr Alex Wodak, a key voice in drug law reform, told 7:30 the proportion of young people carrying drugs in NSW has increased even as the use of sniffer dogs has increased. He thinks pill testing at festivals might also lead to changing behaviour from drug makers and dealers.
“What happens is when people find out they’ve bought some dangerous drugs, they go back to the dealer and demand their money back,” Wodak said. “And that message gets transferred up the line and so it puts pressure on the people who are manufacturing these products to make sure that they’re manufacturing less dangerous rather than more dangerous chemicals.”
Still according to NSW Police Drug Squad Commander Tony Cooke, law enforcement’s approach to pills at festivals will remain the same. “It’s not an approach we will take. You know, drugs are illegal. The bottom line is it’s illegal and we will enforce the law.”
Aussie dance producer Paul Mac, who famously thanked ecstasy dealers when he accepted an ARIA Award in 1995, also thinks the no tolerance stand on drugs at festivals is out-of-touch. “Despite sniffer dogs, despite everything, there is no evidence that people are taking less drugs at festivals,” Mac said. “It’s fun. It’s dangerous, it’s fun, it works with the music – that’s why people do it.”