The NSW state government is being urged to reconsider its dismissal of a pill-testing trial following the deaths of two men after they attended music festivals over the weekend.
The two men, aged 21 and 26, died in the early hours of Sunday morning after attending Knockout Outdoor music festival in Western Sydney on Saturday.
While no cause of death can be confirmed until their autopsies are back, at least one is suspected to have died from drug use, per ABC News.
On Monday, NSW Health Minister Ryan Park doubled down on his government’s refusal to implement potentially life-saving pill-testing at music festivals, and justified his stance by claiming there is no “silver bullet” that would prevent deaths completely.
Which, in case you didn’t know, is not a reason to avoid pill-testing since this would be implemented for harm reduction and teaching people to use drugs with minimised risks. Maybe that wouldn’t stop 100 percent of drug deaths, but it could certainly save the lives of people who otherwise would be unknowingly ingesting drugs that were far more dangerous than they initially thought.
Jen Ross-King, whose daughter Alex died of a drug overdose at FOMO in 2019, called on the government to reconsider its stance and actually listen to experts on this issue.
“They need to commence harm reduction strategies within music festival environments this summer. Now. Not wait for a drug summit,” she told reporters on Monday, per Guardian Australia.
“If they do to a drug summit, fantastic. Go with some of your own evidence from a trial of pill testing in NSW.”
“The premier, government, governments before them … they want young people to change their behaviour,” she said, per ABC News.
“They are not going to change their behaviour. The government needs to change their behaviour.”
Greens Upper House MP Cate Faehrmann said at a press conference that introducing pill-testing could also mitigate risk-taking heaviour in other ways.
“We could put in place pill testing now, for this summer, and we could put in place measures such as not having as heavy handed a police response,” Faehrmann said.
“Heavy police presence, with drug dogs, makes people engage in riskier behaviour such as ingesting all of their drugs at once.”
In Alex’s case, the 19-year-old ingested two MDMA capsules before heading into the venue out of fear of being caught in possession by police — so limiting police presence could actually be life-saving for nervous teens.
The calls for pill-testing are actually more important now than ever because of the unexpected influence of climate change on music festivals.
NSW suffered a heatwave over the weekend, with Sydney temperatures soaring to 37C. Australian Festival Association managing director Mitch Wilson told Guardian Australia that weather like this is only more dangerous for those taking drugs.
“With any warmer weather, the risks from taking drugs increase and festival organisers do all they can to implement strategies to reduce harm at their events,” he said.
Sam Kidd, director of campaign at Unharm, told the publication that pill-testing facilities could have multiple benefits — health officials could also warn punters on the increased risks that come with drug use on hot days, and advise them on what to do to minimise these risks (drink lots of water, take less doses, take more breaks, etc).
With the weather becoming increasingly warm, it’s about time the government stopped pretending that zero drug use is an achievable goal. Meet young people where they are — punishing them for drug use by just not implementing schemes that could save their lives is a pretty fucked up response to a fatal issue.