Flying in the face of the NSW Baird Government’s war on
drugs drug testing, health experts have announced an unprecedented move to prevent punters from overdosing at music festivals over the forthcoming summer season.
They’ll be disseminating thousands of free DIY pill-testing kits at music-based events across Sydney, in what’s been described as a “protest manoeuvre” against NSW Premier Mike Baird & co’s threat to prosecute anyone associated with a privately funded pill-testing trial.
Just in case you need a bit of background, pill-testing is a harm minimisation approach to dealing with Australia’s growing epidemic of illegal drug use, which prioritises preventing deaths over arresting wrongdoers, by giving punters access to technology that allows them to check to see if their pills contain anything that — you know — might kill them.
The proven-to-be-lifesaving measure — which has been backed by multiple Aussie musicians and music festivals plus a coalition of politicians and health experts — has been fundamentally rejected by Baird & co, who view any endorsement of pill-testing as being tantamount to condoning illegal drug use, and have instead preached an “abstinence or death” approach and threatened to basically shut down every music festival in the state if the problem doesn’t fix itself.
And now, the same group of leading Aussie health experts who’ve vowed to independently bankroll a pill-testing trial behind Baird’s back — and even endure mass arrests if it meants saving lives — have promised to flood Sydney’s music festivals over the forthcoming summer calendar with “legal” DIY drug-testing kits.
President of Harm Reduction Australia, Gino Vambuca, has told The Age that the kits are “basic”, with limited technology that can test for the presence of particular drugs, but not other potentially deadly substances like cutting agents.
“This is definitely not our preferred option, it is our only available option,” he says. “We are heading into festival season, we witnessed a number of deaths last year. The unfortunate reality is, tragedies will again occur this summer. When it came to discussing the available options with government, we couldn’t even get a foot in the door. We have since decided we cannot sit back idly and do nothing.”
Harm Reduction Australia, together with Ted Noffs Foundation, the Australian Drug Observatory, Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia and the Victoria-based DanceWize, have launched the “Just One Life” campaign, which emergency medical specialist and privately funded pill-testing trial mastermind Dr David Caldicott says is all about saving lives, as opposed to endorsing illegal drug use itself.
“Nobody is endorsing drug use. Nobody is trying to encourage it,” he explains. “What we are trying to to ensure is that young people don’t die… that is the basis for Just One life.”
The organisation’s free pill testing kits are reportedly not themselves illegal to possess, and are similar to the ones used by law enforcement agencies.
But Caldicott warns that the basic tests can’t confirm the levels of any particular drug, so a pill that comes up as containing MDMA will by no means be safe.
“These kits give no information about purity,” he cautions, adding: “One of the biggest problems we have in this summer’s market is very high dose MDMA.”
However, he also implied that taking pills that come up with zero traces of MDMA at all could be even more dangerous.
“It is disappointing,” he adds. “There is a far better way we could do this. But they [the government] have ignored the evidence and expertise available to them.”
The NSW Government and police have both yet to comment.