Music lovers nationwide are gearing up for the annual Splendour in the Grass festival, to be held at the North Byron Parklands in just under a fortnight.
And, as usual, festival organisers have warned that drug detection dogs will be in attendance, along with a strong police presence.
But in recent times, festivalgoers around the world have called on law enforcement personnel to take a more liberal approach to drug use in order to promote safety and prevent tragic overdoses.
One Canadian festival even took the initiative of providing attendees with drug testing kits to allow users to ensure any illicit drugs were not laced with toxic substances.
Testing to Prevent Fatalities
Organisers of the Evolve Festival, held in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, aimed to revolutionise the festival scene by offering free drug testing to all attendees.
Festivalgoers could utilise the service by handing officials samples of any drugs that they intended to take. Staff would then run litmus tests on the samples and provide a report detailing the chemical breakdown of the drugs. The kits are able to run tests on LSD, speed and ecstasy.
Staff decided to implement the free testing service after a number of attendees overdosed last year because they didn’t know what was in the drugs they were taking.
Organisers argued that testing was more beneficial than preventative measures such as sniffer dogs as drug use was inevitable at music events.
Testing Canned After Insurance Debacle
But well-intentioned organisers faced hurdles in implementing the plan.
The event’s insurance providers, Wynward Insurance Group, reportedly pulled the plug on the event after it heard about the decision to offer free drug testing.
After considering cancelling the festival altogether, organisers were able to secure new insurance underwriters at the last minute – but were forced to sign a waiver promising not to provide drug-testing kits to attendees.
Despite the debacle, the festival’s executive producer, Jonas Coulter, hopes that media coverage of the controversy will push others in the industry to consider introducing drug testing kits in the future.
Speaking to the media, Coulter explained the reasoning behind testing kits, saying, ‘it’s not about condoning drug use, it’s about offering information and letting people make hopefully wise decisions.’
Drug Testing Kits Backed By Experts
While insurers and some members of the public remain wary of such moves, medical experts have embraced the idea.
Vancouver’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, backed drug testing kits, saying that ‘from a pragmatic, humane and ethical perspective we should try and mitigate the dangers for those individuals.’
He said testing could allow users to identify the presence of dangerous compounds such as fentanyl, which has been linked to a number of recent drug overdoses.
Similar comments have been made by Australian health professionals after a number of highly-publicised drug overdoses at local music festivals.
Earlier this year Dr. David Caldicott, who monitors drugs in emergency rooms, spoke out against Australia’s zero-tolerance approach to drugs.
Dr. Caldicott suggested that Australia should support the use of drug testing kits at festivals in a bid to prevent fatal overdoses.
He stated that when kits are available, consumers readily change their behaviour, stating that ‘if the result of a test on a pill is something other than what they thought it would be, [users] frequently elect to abandon taking that pill.’
He also spoke about the success of drug testing kit initiatives in Europe, where festivals commonly allow users to check drug content as part of a ‘harm-reduction intervention.’
And it seems that drug testing kits have the support of the general public: a recent survey found that 82% of Australians aged between 16 and 23 supported the idea of pill testing.
Testing Offers Other Benefits
Besides allowing drug users to know exactly what they are consuming, pill testing has been shown to have numerous other benefits.
For instance, there is evidence to suggest that such regimes promote ‘purer’ drugs, allowing drug users to warn others of any drugs known to contain dangerous ingredients. This puts pressure on drug manufacturers to refrain from lacing or cutting drugs with harmful substances.
Experts also say that pill testing facilities provide an educative function, enabling the dissemination of drug-related information to a target audience.
Such initiatives have reportedly been used ‘to establish contact and as the basis for follow-up work with members of not-yet-problematic, but nevertheless high-risk, groups of recreational drug users.’
However, Australian police maintain that a punitive approach is the best option. Sadly, this means that users will continue to put themselves at greater potential risk every time they consume drugs.