Time to aim for death-free festivals

A pill testing demonstration at Sydney Town Hall has shown how the technology can help young people make better choices and potentially save lives at music festivals.

The demonstration was conducted by Pill Testing Australia yesterday for an audience of health, government and industry stakeholders following an invitation from Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

Speaking at the event, the Lord Mayor welcomed the decision by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to allow the special commission of inquiry into the drug ‘ice’ to report on the merits of pill testing, saying policy should be based on facts and evidence.

“With so many young people dying during the summer festival season, it’s time to look at new methods that minimise harm,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

“Pill testing is a practical solution to a complex health problem. It’s about providing our young people with information that saves lives.”

Gino Vumbaca from Pill Testing Australia said politicians had nothing to lose by considering their pill testing service with the accompanying technology.

“We provide our service within the medical precinct of a festival where young people can hand over a sample to have it analysed and assessed,” Mr Vumbaca said.

“There are a growing number of different and sophisticated testing technologies that are able to accurately indicate what is contained within a submitted substance, give an idea of its purity and even the nature of some of the cutting agents used in the manufacturing process.

“With this information, we can help young people intent on consuming drugs alter their behaviour at the point of consumption.

“One of the instruments that we have been using to date is the fourier-transform infrared spectrometer, which is what we demonstrated yesterday.”

Emergency Consultant and Pill Testing Australia member Dr David Caldicott ran two pill testing trials at the Groovin the Moo festival in Canberra, where many young people threw out their drugs.

“Parents and politicians underestimate how powerful it is for a medical professional to calmly, frankly and factually explain to a young person the exact contents of their drugs. This is then reinforced by our harm reduction workers in brief interventions with patrons,” Dr Caldicott said.

“At Groovin the Moo, there were no ambulance transfers to hospital for overdose, and seven potentially dangerous ingestions of n-ethyl pentylone were averted because young people binned their drugs.

“Even in the case of pure MDMA (ecstasy), young people are told of the dangerous outcomes that could arise from ingesting it and in many cases, change their planned behaviour. We’re not in the business of telling people drugs are safe.

“Instead of focusing on drug-free festivals, which is almost certainly unattainable, we should be focusing on death-free festivals.”

Former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer said he was not a pro-drug advocate but realised that Australia was not going to become a drug-free society anytime soon.

“We must be prepared to recognise the reality that people will take drugs and that harms will occur.

Our emphasis has to be on minimising these harms and the dangers associated with drug taking,” Mr Palmer said.

“We need to have the courage to accept the reality and to deal with it as compassionately, effectively and as humanely as we can. Pill testing trials are a classic example of such an approach.”

“We have to face the facts that what we’re currently doing simply does not work. We can’t punish our way out of this problem. I came to my view in support of pill testing on the evidence.

The Lord Mayor said she hoped attendees would see the life-saving potential of pill testing.

“As Member for Bligh, I took part in a drug summit following the 1999 election, bringing together Members of Parliament, experts, community representatives, families, and people with experience of drug use and its effects,” the Lord Mayor said.

“During the course of that week, I saw the views of MPs and others change as they heard compelling evidence and engaged in serious discussion about issues that were confronting for many of them.

“So many lives have been saved at the Kings Cross Medically Supervised Injecting Centre and the overwhelming evidence shows that pill testing can make festivals considerably safer than they currently are.”

/Public Release.