Pill-testing the way forward for festival safety

MDMA crystals in a cap.

By SOPHIE GRIFFITHS

Australia’s first pill testing trial at Groovin’ the Moo last weekend was a success, according to Australia’s largest drug and alcohol youth treatment service.

Noffs Foundation co-founder and CEO Matt Noffs said it had been a “rollercoaster” ride to get acceptance that pill-testing was a good idea. 

“The thing we’ve been battling is that it condones or endorses drug use – which it absolutely doesn’t,” he said.

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A total of 128 people had 85 drugs tested at the Canberra festival run by harm reduction organisation, Safety and Testing and Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE).

Tests showed the drugs included a cocktail of dangerous and obscure ingredients such as toothpaste, paint and the potentially lethal stimulant ephylone.

Mr Noffs said he was heartened by the support from ACT Police.

“You have to remember these young people are thinking ‘am I going to get arrested?’ All they had to go by was the media that existed around it and there was even a law expert out that day in The Canberra Times. There’s no legal protection for people around this, so it would have been scary for a young person,” he said.

“To have 128 people use the service, to be able to test 85 samples, was in my mind a success.” 

MDMA pressed pills, commonly reffered to as molly and ecstasy, source Wikipedia

Harm reduction advocates believe the criminalisation of illicit substances misses the mark when it comes to protecting young people from the dangers of drug use.

Harm Reduction Victoria’s (HRV) Dancewize co-ordinator Stephanie Tzanetis said educating young people was vital in reducing risk. 

“A prohibitionist approach creates a social barrier that means people who use drugs may delay seeking medical care if they feel they need it,” she said.

“Educating young people to make more informed choices is more effective in reducing the risks associated with drug-related harm.”

The negative side effects of MDMA consumption include hallucinations, heart palpitations, vomiting, dehydration, paranoia and seizures.

Yet hundreds of thousand young Australians continue to willingly consume the substance.

Recreational user Tom White*, 23, said choosing to take party drugs was a risk/reward trade-off.

“I think that when you go out you’re generally going to consume something, whether that be alcohol or other drugs. Everyone knows how bad alcohol is but they continue to do it. There’s a trade-off … the risks are offset by the enjoyment you get out of it,” he said.

This view was mirrored by 21-year-old Samantha Green*. “You don’t think ‘oh drugs are illegal so I’m not going to do them’ … honestly if it’s just every now and then, and you know your limits, I don’t see why it’s a huge issue,” she said.

Ms Tzanetis said HRV did not encourage drug use but recognised the inevitability of narcotic consumption in society, and worked to create better health outcomes for users.

Pillreports.net shares information on items that have been tested, and warns against those found to contain dangerous substances.

Currently the only way for users to check the safety of their drugs is through an online database called pillreports, which is made up of user experience and tests made on the substances.

Mr Noffs said he hoped the success of the trial could be replicated around Australia, but admitted many stakeholders needed to align.

“Government, police, festival promoters, land-holders … that’s just the start.”

* Names have been changed