Attempts to allow drug use and drug testing at music festivals is flawed and dangerous, and is being used by drug-friendly groups and a government apparently soft-on-drugs as a wedge for the normalisation of drug use.
Having drug-free music festivals is not a ‘hardline’ approach as foolishly claimed by the Greens – it’s a health and safety approach based on best practice. Drug overdoses are a huge concern, and testing won’t protect users because there is no such thing as a safe drug.
Pill testing will be seen by many younger people especially as a clear endorsement of drug use. It sends a message that illicit drugs are acceptable and can be ‘safe’, and will worsen harmful drug use, so that more lives will be put at risk with the belief that the drug they are taking is somehow ‘safe’.
Pill testing also does not – and cannot – guarantee that the drug being taken will not cause any physical or mental harm or death to the individual consumer. It also cannot account for the individual’s physiological response to each drug.
Drug-Free Australia has provided research showing that according to the medical literature the accelerating number of Australian deaths from ecstasy are mostly not from overdosing, nor, according to coroners’ reports, are they due to impurities in party pills – but rather from individual reactions to drugs. A group of friends can all ingest the same amount but only one might die This was precisely the case with Anna Wood, who took the same amount as her friends, but only she died.
New Zealand lawmakers and authorities should adopt the same approach as overseas jurisdictions. If pill testing is pursued with government approval, the inevitable result will be more people willing to use the substance on the false assumption that they are now safe.
This is simply another ‘facilitated’ ill-informed decision to consume illicit drugs. Festival goers should enjoy the music and stop playing Russian Roulette with drugs and with their lives.
“The last thing we would want to do is give people a false sense of security about taking illegal drugs cooked up in someone’s bath tub.”
President of the Australian Medical Association, Oct 2017
“Advice from Victoria Police tells us it can give people a false and potentially fatal sense of security about illicit drugs.”
Victorian government spokesman, Jan 2019.
“Public statements made by politicians that the trial would help ‘keep people safe’ were potentially misleading. MDMA is not a safe drug… The whole concept is based on the false assumption that if you do know what you’re taking, it is safe – something that is absolutely untrue.”
Toxicologist Andrew Leibie, from Safework Laboratories, Oct 2017
“It’s a poison. You can test a poison all you like, it remains a poison.”
State Health Commander of Ambulance Victoria, Jan 2018
“Anyone who advocates pill testing is giving the green light to drugs, that is absolutely unacceptable, there is no such thing as a safe drug… I want to send a strong message to every young person … You should not take drugs at these events or anywhere else, and last night’s tragic consequences demonstrated this.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the government will shut down the Sydney dance music festival Defqon.1 after two people died and another three were left critically ill after the event in September.
Three deaths in Melbourne in January 2017 were due to other drugs 4-FA and 25C-NBOMe in ecstasy pills, but Victorian Police said that normal pill testing would not have helped.
Last April, the ACT shadow Attorney General Jeremy Hanson said that “By the government’s own admission, mobile pill testing kits may not trace all strands of synthetic substance in illicit drugs, and the available literature on pill testing ‘does not provide evidence that pill testing prevents deaths among festival patrons’. Assertions that pill testing will save lives are misleading, and doctors and toxicologists have echoed these concerns.”
“Determining to a punter that a drug is in the ‘normal boundaries of what a drug should be’ takes no account of how many he or she will take, whether the person will mix it with other drugs or alcohol and nor does it give you any indicator of the receptiveness of a person’s body to that drug… There are no safe illegal drugs.”
Melvin Benn, Festival Republic’s managing director, UK’s largest festival organiser which organises Reading and Leeds Festivals, among others
“Drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities. This government’s approach remains clear that we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people through treatment and recovery. No illegal drug can be assumed to be safe and there is no safe way to take them.”
Home Office – UK government, June 2018