More than 260 people were arrested for drug offences by the time last weekend’s Splendour in the Grass music festival wrapped up on the northern New South Wales coast.
The police presence was unmistakable at the popular annual event – with interview and frisk tents set up just inside the entrance gates, and a high visibility police operation in full swing involving counter-terrorism police, sniffer dogs and the public order and riot squad.
In addition to specialist police and private security guards, 150 regular police officers patrolled the grounds. Tough security measures including a ‘no-backpacks rule’, and scanning with an electronic wand were implemented to “avoid terrorist attacks”.
While police were primarily targeting illegal drug use and anti-social behaviour, they also charged five people with assault and issued 65 criminal infringement notices to people who allegedly entered the event without valid tickets.
But dealing with drug possession was what kept police busy – with cannabis, ‘ice’, ‘ecstacy’ and cocaine topping the list.
Twelve people were also charged with drug supply, including a 21-year old man who was allegedly found in possession of 60 ecstasy pills. 76 people were issued with cannabis cautions, and 142 were ordered to attend court.
Concealing drugs internally
Police say they detected an increase in the number of people attempting to conceal drugs inside their bodies this year.
Allegations also surfaced that school girls aged just 16 and 17 were acting as drug mules – filling condoms with drugs and coating them in peanut butter before inserting them into their bodies, hoping the peanut butter would conceal the scent of the drugs.
Sniffer dogs and pill testing
The use of drug detection dogs has always been controversial, but the debate around their effectiveness heightened after a spate of deaths at music festivals around Australia in 2015 and 2016.
Many believe sniffer dogs are ineffective and can lead to dangerous behaviours. Statistics from 2015 show that NSW police carried out 12,893 bodily searches resulting from positive indications by sniffer dogs, of which a whopping 69 percent turned out to be false positives – where no drugs are found.
In terms of behaviour, the presence of sniffer dogs has been linked to ‘pre-loading’ and ‘loading up’. The former is where users take large amounts of drugs before arriving at the festival, while the latter involves take significant quantities upon seeing police approaching. The practice has been linked to a number of deaths from overdoses in 2015 and 2016.
For many years, health experts have lobbied for pill testing to be introduced at festivals across Australia, whereby festival-goers are able to have their drugs tested for dangerous additives and high purity levels. Pill testing has been used in a number of European countries for years, and proving to be highly successful in reducing hospitalisations and deaths from overdoses.