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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Stereosonic 2015 Sydney

Sylvia Choi's death at the Stereosonic music festival in Sydney last weekend has highlighted Australia's backward attitude towards keeping patrons of music festivals safe. 

We didn't know that Europe has a proud record of no reported deaths at music festivals in 25 years.  Why?  Because they test the pills before they take them.

Based in Canberra, Johnboy Davidson who runs one of the world's largest online databases for ecstasy pill reports, and Professor David Caldicott, an emergency department consultant in Canberra, pioneered festival drug testing at the Enchanted Forest Raves in South Australia.  But for some reason it was shut down by the Howard government and since then - nothing.

The sheer purity of the pills currently for sale is uncertain as more drugs arrive from overseas, mainly from south-west China and many have never been seen here before.

But in Europe and Canada, it's different.  An organisation such as DanceSafe arrives the morning of the festival with a crate full of laboratory equipment and patrons queue to have their drugs tested. Sometimes it's even subsidised by the government at no cost to the patrons. 

Earlier this year, 29 year old Amy went to the Shambhala Festival in Canada.  She said punters were queueing for over an hour to have their drugs tested and there was even a warning board about dodgy drugs that were being offered for sale among the crowd.

"They took a small sample and ran a colour test" Amy said.  "It gave me peace of mind to know that me and my friends would be safe."

But there's always someone ready to pour cold water on a good idea. Even though Ms Choi was the fifth person to die at an Australian music festival this year, and 120 people needed medical assistance last weekend, NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant uttered these pearls of wisdom. "The first thing we need to do is stop people taking drugs."

And then he added "At what cost?  Who pays for it?  Do we have to spend taxpayers money to stop people killing themselves and causing harm?"

There is an alternative, but it's not guaranteed.  You can buy a personal testing kit but Australian proprietor Steven Bourk admits the kits are not sophisticated enough to detect all the latest drugs coming into the country.

Professor Caldicott says testing pills would be many times cheaper than deploying 200 police and drug dogs, around one tenth of the cost in fact.  The drug checking program is supported by the European Union which has lots of evidence to prove that it works.

So it seems we must wait for another young person to die before the government will admit they have lost the war on drugs and fix the problem.