Pill Testing At Music Festivals – Saving Lives or Supporting Drug Dealers?

In the past year, seven people have died at Australian music festivals after allegedly ingesting illicit drugs. As police crack down on drug consumption with increased police presence, sniffer dogs, and harsher penalties, one doctor has decided that they need to go a step further. Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, wants to begin pill testing at New South Wales music festivals, with or without the government’s permission.

Field Day 2016. Photo Credit: Field Day
Field Day 2016

Australian music festivals have become infamous for drug use. At Field Day, a New Year’s day music festival held in Sydney, more than 180 people were charged with drug related offences, and several needing hospital treatment for alleged drug consumption.

Dr Alex Wodak’s strategy to cull drug consumption, or at least the consumption of those substances with uncertain ingredients, is remarkably similar to the Australian government’s strategy to cull smoking, as both seek to expose the truth to people inclined to experiment with them as bluntly as possible. The difference is that smoking, while posing a great health threat, is legal, while illicit substances obviously are not. Consequently, NSW Premier Mike Baird has been extremely vocal in his rejection of Wodak’s idea, as pill-testing would be tantamount to supporting the consumption of illicit substances.

“We’re in a position that we absolutely do not support that in any way… There is a very safe way to go about pills and that is don’t take them.” – Mike Baird

Dr Alex Wodak. Photo Credit: Sefan Postles
Dr Alex Wodak. Photo Credit: Sefan Postles

Wodak, in turn, is determined to go ahead, asking for large-scale sponsors and crowdfunding in order to reach the $100 000 needed to trial pill-testing at one event. His reasoning consists of two main ideas: that drug taking is inevitable at Australian music festivals, and therefore the government and polices’ way of handing the situation needs to change; and that the testing would be done by medical professionals, and so would be safe and accurate.

“Doctors, analysts who know how to operate the [testing] machines and peer interviewers who can translate the scientific results and explain to people why the drug they bought is talcum powder or highly toxic. The idea is to save lives. I am prepared to break the law to save young people’s lives.” – Dr Alex Wodak

One supporter is emergency medical specialist Dr David Caldicott, who emphsaised the impact of this issue on the families of people that have has serious reactions, or died, from alleged drug-taking.

“It’s very straight forward. We want to run a trial at a place where everyone is using drugs anyway. “It’s time for our politicians and elected representatives to catch up with what the majority of parents want for their children, which is for them to return home safe.”