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Pill Testing To Be Trialled At NSW Music Festivals, Despite Government Opposition

Two Australian drug experts have announced a privately funded pill testing trial which is set to begin at New South Wales music festivals with or without the support of the State Government, which continues to stand by its hard-line approach.

As Fairfax Media reports, Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation President Dr Alex Wodak has teamed up with emergency medical specialist Dr David Caldicott for the pill testing trial, and they’ve vowed to break the law in order to pull it off.

“We are going to do this,” says Dr Wodak. “Doctors, analysts who know how to operate the [testing] machines and peer interviewers who can translate the scientific results and explain to people why the drug they bought is talcum powder or highly toxic. The idea is to save lives. I am prepared to break the law to save young people’s lives.”

Dr Wodak says the pill testing trial will be launched without any cost to taxpayers, but he recognises that it will require the support of event organisers, and he already has some big local festivals in his sights.

“Stereosonic would be a suitable one. Splendour In The Grass would be another. We want to do a big one. We want to do several big ones,” he says. Music Feeds has contacted Stereosonic and Splendour In The Grass for comment.

As The Guardian reports, NSW Premier Mike Baird has dismissed the planned pill testing trial “ridiculous”, saying, “We are not going to be condoning in any way what illegal drug dealers are doing.”

Dr Caldicott says that the planned trial is extremely necessary. “We want to run a trial at a place where everyone is using drugs anyway,” he says. “It’s time for our politicians and elected representatives to catch up with what the majority of parents want for their children, which is for them to return home safe.”

Interestingly, the NSW Government received a detailed, 18-page dossier about how pill testing at festivals would work earlier this month, suggesting that lawmakers may be looking into the process more deeply. The document is a discussion paper developed by Will Tregoning, the founder drug law reform agency Unharm.

“It looks at why we should do drug testing, how services operate internationally, the evidence of the effects of those services and it explains the legal context of the operation of a service in NSW,” Mr Tregoning says. “It essentially outlines that without any legislative change we could introduce a pilot service right now.”

NSW Police Minister Troy Grant says the State Government won’t fund a pill testing scheme, and continues to stand behind the Government’s strict drug policing policies, which include the use of sniffer dogs.

Minister Grant’s office says it is “working on a strategy to reduce harm at music festivals through the promotion of drug-free events with the appropriate police resources to enforce the law”.

Dr Wodak belives Minister Grant’s comments make it clear that the Government “has shut the door on the possibility that pill testing could even be trialled”.

“Deaths are recurring at an increasing rate. Although it is clear that the current strategy, largely reliant on sniffer dogs, does not work in terms of reducing drug use or harm,” he says. “There is zero willingness by the police minister to even contemplate options. How can this be?”

In December, a Music Feeds poll found that 83 per cent of over 10,000 respondents were in in favour of Australian festivals introducing drug testing procedures at their events — a statistic which Dr Wodak has put directly to Minister Grant on Twitter, to no reply at the time of writing.

In January this year, Aussie health groups led renewed calls for drug disposal or amnesty bins to be available at local music festivals, before new data was released showing that the number of ecstasy users appearing at NSW hospitals has doubled over the past five years.

Dr Wodak and a team of colleagues introduced Australia’s first medically supervised injecting centre in 1999, a move which was approved after originally being opposed by then NSW Premier Bob Carr.

Given the differing views on either side of the current pill testing debate, there could be some tense showdowns between Police and pill testing advocates at upcoming NSW festivals.

MORE: What Would It Take For Aussie Music Festivals To Implement Pill Testing?

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