Good news for pill testing advocates! It is being reported that the NSW state coroner will recommend pill testing and a reduction of police drug operations at festivals. Premier Gladys Berejiklian is now under mounting pressure to act on the evidence.
Following an extensive inquest into deaths at music festivals, NSW state coroner Harriet Grahame will recommend pill testing and a reduction of police drug operations. Grahame oversaw testimony and evidence during the weeks-long coronial inquest into drug-related festival deaths this year.
This is another blow to the NSW government whose methods, along with the failed Lockout Laws, have been ineffective in halting violence and deaths at events.
Over forty recommendations included in a leaked draft report sent to the NSW Department of Health include halting the police practice of taking sniffer dogs to music festivals and an overall reduction in police presence at festivals.
The report calls for police strip searches to also be scrapped, in great news for fans of bodily autonomy across the state.
In the report, Ms Grahame urges the Berejiklian government to consider decriminalising the personal use of illicit drugs. It also recommends the state government stage a summit to develop drug policy based on evidence.
This harm reduction method has proven results overseas in places like Amsterdam. The draft document suggests the creation of a state-sponsored drug checking facility, mirroring the approach in the Netherlands. Growing evidence from experts has been pointing towards this solution for years.
The ABC reported that Dr David Caldicott, pill testing advocate and emergency doctor at Canberra’s Calvary Hospital, stated:
“There’s an abundance of evidence in support of pill testing, and saturation policing probably makes festivals more dangerous.”
Dr Caldicott went on to say that pill testing is “only controversial in the eyes of people who haven’t looked into it and read about it, in the eyes of science and medicine these moves are not at all controversial”.
Jennie Ross-King, the mother of Alex Ross-King who died after attending FOMO festival in January of this year, told the Sydney Morning Herald that she supports the report’s recommendations,
“I thought they were great. They’re very comprehensive and common sense. From everything we heard, it’s based on the facts, the evidence, the information that was brought to the coroner”.
Further lifesaving proposals in the report include festival organisers providing shade, plentiful drinking water, chill-out spaces and ice baths.
It’s clear that the war on drugs has been lost long ago. Practical and pragmatic efforts towards harm minimisation, rather than further stigmatisation and oversaturation of police, is the way to go. The government must act now if we have any chance of decreasing music festival deaths.
The evidence is mounting. In April the ACT government conducted a trial of pill testing at Groovin The Moo. Organisers of the trial said that it potentially saved seven lives.
The final coronial report is due on the 8th of November. Let’s hope that the state government acts upon these recommendations as soon as possible, before the summer festival season kicks off.
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