FESTIVAL PILL TESTS
The State’s peak medical group will throw its support behind a trial of pill testing at music festivals. Australian Medical Association WA president Andrew Miller said the reality was that young people were going to experiment with drugs. “So we have to accept that reality and put in steps that mean we don’t end up with more dead kids,” he said.
A trial of pill testing at music festivals in WA is being seriously considered as a key recommendation of a parliamentary inquiry probing how to reduce the impact of illicit drugs.
And the State’s peak medical group, AMA WA, will today throw its support behind the controversial measure, saying that drug checking should be evaluated so “we don’t end up with more dead kids”.
It comes after the NSW deputy coroner Harriet Grahame yesterday called for the introduction of pill testing in a report into the deaths of six young people at music festivals.
Ms Grahame also recommended scrapping the use of drug-detection sniffer dogs at events which can “precipitate panic ingestion”, and limiting strip searches to people suspected of supplying drugs rather than those who possess them for personal use.
The NSW Coroner’s Court heard from experts, medical staff and police about the deaths of Alex Ross-King, 19, Joshua Tam, 22, Callum Brosnan, 21, Diana Nguyen, 21, Joseph Pham, 23, and Nathan Tran, 18, at various festivals.
Ms Grahame said she had “no doubt whatsoever” there is “sufficient evidence to support a drug-checking trial” in NSW both at music festivals and in the community.
“In my view the evidence is compelling,” she said. “Of course drug checking is not a magic solution to these tragic deaths . . . its introduction will not guarantee further deaths will not occur. Drug
We have to put in steps that mean we don’t end up with more dead kids. AMA WA president Andrew Miller
checking is simply an evidencebased harm reduction strategy that should be trialled as soon as possible in NSW.”
The inquest was conducted at the same time a committee of WA Upper House MPs investigated “alternate approaches” to reducing illicit drug use and its effects on the community. Bodies including the Alcohol and Drug Foundation and the Public Health Association told the inquiry that pill testing would reduce the harm caused by drug use at festivals in WA.
The final report is due to be tabled within a month and parliamentary rules means its findings are a closely guarded secret. But correspondence last month between the committee and a group which offers
“harm reduction services” suggests pill testing is being seriously considered by the MPs.
In a response to a question from the committee about how its staff would respond if they identified a dangerous substance in the course of pill testing, Peer Based Harm Reduction WA said the best way to avoid harm was to not use drugs, but some revellers would take drugs regardless of efforts to dissuade them.
The organisation’s chief executive Angela Corry wrote that “front of house” pill testing services would give peer workers the ideal environment to prove “pragmatic harm reduction education”.
This includes “safer using” strategies such as: avoid mixing different drugs; use a small test dose first; wait 90-120 minutes to judge the effect before taking more; and don’t drive.
Advice at festivals would include: know where chill-out spaces and first aid tents are; have a “buddy system”; take breaks from dancing; avoid overexposure to the sun; and maintain appropriate hydration levels.
AMA WA president Andrew Miller said he supported the NSW deputy coroner’s call for pill testing at festivals.
“We know young people are going to use drugs. To think you can tell them to stop has never worked. So we have to accept that reality and put in steps that mean we don’t end up with more dead kids,” he said.
Police Minister Michelle Roberts said there were “no plans to introduce pill testing in WA” and she didn’t support police officers “being put in the position of quality control for drug dealers”.
“Drug dealers are motivated by profits, so you can never be certain the drug is what it purports to be, or what deadly ingredients may be in the substance,” she said. “Just because one pill in a batch tests safe, doesn’t mean all are.”
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson is also against pill testing and said he was not convinced there was evidence to support its effectiveness or safety.
Alex Ross-King, Diana Nguyen and Nathan Tran who all died at NSW music festivals.