Giving you buzz or saving your life? Pill testing is an issue that has recently returned to the conversation this week, with the announcement that music festivals in Canberra will start trialling pill testing as soon as the end of this year, making it possible to begin testing at festivals such as Spilt Milk and Groovin’ The Moo.
In the past year, a number of people have died from taking drugs at Australian music festivals, with a group of doctors calling for pill testing to become a standard practice at music festivals. Pill testing will allow festival goers to have their party drugs tested to determine the chemical makeup and help them avoid ingesting unknown and potentially dangerous substances. So, why isn’t NSW on board yet?
Let’s look at the facts. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s National Drug Strategy Household Survey reports that over 42 percent of Australians over the age of 14 have used an illicit drug at least once, with 29 percent of Australians aged 20-29 had used an illicit drug in the twelve months prior to the survey. Pills are now very appealing to young people because they are cheap and readily available.
According to Four Corners reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna an ecstasy pill can likely cost around $20, which is cheaper than three schooners at the pub and can keep the user on a high for four hours.
“For uni students, it’s cheaper to get high than get drunk. The strength of ecstasy has gone through the roof. It was 5 or 10 per cent purity, now it’s up to 60 per cent, super-strength MDMA.”
Pill testing is not condoning illicit substances, it is allowing those festival goers who wish to take part in recreational drug taking to have their drugs tested and to find out what the contents of the pill is and to see if the pill passes the test. It is then the user can make an informed decision of whether the drug is safe to consume or not. People are gulping down pills before actually entering the festival because of the fear of getting caught, therefore they are already at a health risk unknown to any of the security or police at the gate.
It is not about letting festival goers freely use illicit substances, it is about removing the fear of being caught with these substances and checking the pills to see if they are safe to consume. Too many young people have died over the past year due to illicit drug taking, so we need to accept that this is an issue regarding outdated drug laws and policies before more people die during the upcoming festival season. Instead of just cataloging the deaths, we need to do something to stop them dying because our current policies alongside patronizing sniffer dogs and police monitoring the entrance to festivals is not working.
The government can no longer live in the fantasy world that there are no drug overdoses and drug deaths because ‘no one should be taking drugs’. With Australia having the highest recreational drug use in the world, it’s about time the government learnt to accept this issue and manage it rather than deny it.