FESTIVAL PILL TESTS

The West Australian - - FRONT PAGE - PETER LAW State Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor

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.

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