Drug policy experts have thrown water on the NSW Government’s harebrained scheme to outlaw music festivals in response to concerns about drug use.
Premier Mike Baird and Police Minister Troy Grant have put the state’s festivals “on notice”, warning that they could be shut down if they don’t do more to combat the problem.
“If they don’t, or won’t, or thumb their nose at their own duty of care, then that’s when they’ll write their own script and perhaps force the Government into taking that decision out of their hands,” Grant threatened, after 184 people were arrested and a 23-year-old woman was hospitalised for allegedly overdosing on MDMA at Sydney’s Field Day.
But our fearless state leaders “solution” to the issue of drug use has already been widely criticised by musicians, politicians and just about anyone under the age of 50. And now, even drug policy experts are telling them they’ve got it wrong.
“Music festivals are going to occur and they are either going to occur as organised by professional organisers or they’re going to occur in an underground environment,” drug policy expert and emergency department doctor, Professor David Caldicott sanely explained to the ABC.
“The former is far more preferable than the latter. To shut down music festivals will probably cause a spike in drug-related illnesses and death. I’m apprehensive every weekend and hoping that we’re not going to see another death.
“It is frustrating for people who work in this field who know that there is another approach.”
By “another approach”, he means pill-testing, a process that would allow festival-goers to have their drugs checked in a mobile laboratory and told exactly what’s in them.
“The overwhelming majority of individuals who are advised that there’s something other than what they anticipated in the drug, the overwhelming majority of that group of people actually do something other than take the drug which they’ve had tested,” he explained. “And that’s usually bin it or attempt to take half of it or do something different that modifies their behaviour and there’s not a lot else that does that.”
The call to implement pill-testing in response to the issue of drug related deaths is hardly a new one. After a 25-year-old woman died of an overdose at the Sydney leg of Stereosonic late last year, advocacy for drug testing reached fever pitch, with artists like Illy and Peking Duk both backing the approach.
A Music Feeds poll of over 10,000 punters further showed a whopping 83% were in favour of pill-testing. And Greens leader Richard Di Natale has recently flagged it as a much saner solution than the government’s current one.
“Shutting down festivals won’t stop drug use or save lives,” he tweeted. “But other approaches, like pill testing, might.”
However, it seems the State libs aren’t having any of it. Despite admitting that “just say no” messages aren’t getting through – and acknowledging that educating people about exactly what substances they’re taking is important – Troy Grant says drug testing at festivals is just not an option.
“We’re not going to set up a regime test to for something that’s illegal to see if it’s safe to ingest or not,” he told the ABC. “We’re not going to condone illegal drug-taking, full stop.”
Which kind of seems a lot like saying “who cares if it could actually work. I don’t like it so we’re not going to do it.”
Yes, best ban all the music festivals instead. That ought to do it.