Festival season is upon us for another year and it’s time to think about the dangers of drug taking at these events. As much as we want to discourage people, young and old, from taking illegal drugs, the reality is that many will still engage in this risky behaviour. Drug users make a personal choice to risk their health and the health of those around them when they take drugs.
I support pill/drug testing at music festivals in order to help protect young (and not-so-young) risk takers. This is a different matter from the moral issue of drugs, it is a safety issue. Without pill testing, drug takers have an unforeseeable risk of further harm because they do not know the exact substance they are imbibing. Collectively, turning a blind eye to the harm caused by dangerous chemicals in recreational drugs is forcing drug takers to take risks, rather than arming them with choice.
By adding a step to the process through pill testing, a risk taker gets a ‘chance’ to manage that risk with greater knowledge of the substance they are taking. Amnesty bins for people who decide not to take drugs they’ve brought with them and peer to peer support in a safe area from trained volunteers, such as from the organisation DanceWize, would also ideally be part of every festival along with drug testing.
The Australian Greens have announced their intention to set up a national drug testing agency with community pill testing centres available to run free testing of drugs for impurities and dangerous additives. The centres would then provide public warnings about tested drugs so that members of the public and health professionals would be aware of dangerous batches of drugs in circulation.
The proposed system is based on a similar scheme which runs in the Netherlands. A trial of drug testing took place at Canberra’s “Grooving in the Moo” in April 2018. Where drugs were found to be contaminated with lethal substances in 2 cases, the drugs were disposed of by the would-be users, showing that testing acted both as a safety measure and as a deterrent. If pill testing makes a risk taker think about what they are ingesting, isn’t this just one small but positive step towards educating the public, and our youth especially, on their choices?
If the Greens nationally and in NSW are able to work to implement a pill testing scheme it will save lives, it’s as simple as that. Let’s not let the war on drugs and the moral high ground get in the way of preventing one more avoidable and tragic death through contaminated drugs.