A 19-year-old man has died and three other people are in a critical condition in hospital following suspected drug overdoses at a hard styles festival at Sydney Olympic Park on Saturday night.
Police say the teenager from Baulkham Hills was found at a train station near the Knockout Games of Destiny event — billed as the biggest indoor festival in the southern hemisphere — and was taken to Concord Hospital, where he tragically passed away.
According to police, thirteen other people were also hospitalised during the event, while 130 others were treated for various conditions.
Of the 18,000 people in attendance, police charged five with drug supply offences, including an 18-year-old woman, who was allegedly caught with almost 400 MDMA caps.
In a statement to press, South West Metropolitan Region Commander, Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell, complained that people were continuing to ignore police’s messages about the dangers of taking illegal drugs.
“There is no acceptable use for drugs – the message is clear,” he said.
“We will continue to have a strong presence at festivals and dance parties with the wellbeing and safety of attendees our number one priority”.
However, in a fiery retort, anti-lockouts group and new political party Keep Sydney Open have argued that police’s “message” clearly isn’t working.
“To the NSW Government and Police: insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and thinking the outcome will change,” they write on Facebook.
“Your anti harm-reduction policies have failed. Get rid of sniffer dogs and introduce pill testing NOW! The worst has already happened – what do we have to lose?”
Likewise, a national campaign for drug law reform dubbed ‘Take Control’ has called on the NSW Government to make music festivals safer with pill testing, while expressing deep remorse for the loss of life this weekend.
“This is terrible tragic news and our thoughts are with the family and friends of this young Australian. We must be respectful of the family and remember that every single life is precious,” Ted Noffs Foundation CEO and campaign spokesperson Matt Noffs says.
His statement continues:
“In responding to tragedy we must sometimes face hard truths – drug taking is happening. Decades of a punitive approach where we arrest young people has not worked. It is time to take practical steps to make parties safer for our kids.
The NSW Government is already halfway there – supporting a range of harm minimisation measures. It makes sense to extend this to a proven service that will make our kids safer at music festivals – pill testing.
As it stands, young people can get drugs easily, but don’t know what they are taking. Despite dealers being caught every day, more simply replace them. Lives are being ruined with severe charges for possession. Worst of all, it’s hard for people with problems to get help because they’re treated like criminals.
Pill testing is not a silver bullet but it’s a good solution in the face of kids dying and being harmed.
We hope that all parties listen to parents across NSW – a majority of Australians support pill testing – and act. The time for 1980s politics and the doomed “Say No” era is over – that thinking puts our kids are further risk.”
However, leader of the nanny state Gladys Berejiklian has already hosed down any talk of altering the NSW Government’s approach to drug policy.
“Unfortunately, we know that pill testing won’t work because it’ll give people a green light to taking substances, which in the end could still kill them,” she told reporters at a press conference in Sydney (via ABC).
Premier Gladys recently espoused similar sentiments, vowing to shut down the Defqon.1 dance festival after two people died and three more were hospitalised in a critical condition following the Sydney event earlier this year.
Blaming the event itself for the tragedy, she claimed that anyone advocating for pill testing as a solution to help stop fatal overdoses was “giving the green light to drugs”.
However, her statements have been proven categorically false by ABC Fact Checkers , with RMIT researchers previously demonstrating that the conservative catch-cry that pill-testing leads to more deaths is complete BS.
“There is no evidence that pill-testing results in festival attendees and partygoers taking more drugs and dying as a consequence,” researcher Claudia Long says. “There is evidence to suggest that pill-testing can make some users more likely to dispose of their drugs or take smaller quantities of them.”
While the landmark trial came back with some disturbing details about some of the 83 drugs tested, the upshot of those results was that many of the punters who owned the bad drugs decided to bin them rather than risk their lives, causing many commentators to hail the whole thing a big success.
In August, a $100,000 fundraiser was also launched to help support the roll out of pill testing programs at more Australian music festivals, following the successful Groovin The Moo trial.
The NSW Government remains staunchly opposed.