by GRACE JOHNSON
The hospitalisation of 8 people after overdosing on MDMA at an electronic music festival in Melbourne has reignited urgent calls for nationwide pill-testing programs.
Seven of the patients who took drugs at the rave had to be placed into an induced coma and required breathing tubes.
Despite Victorian health authorities now saying that the overdoses at Hardmission Festival were not caused by a single bad batch of the drug but rather by a combination of hot and humid conditions and physical exertion, the mass overdose has only amplified calls for pill testing.
Lydia Shelly, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL), said “In light of the recent incidents in Victoria, we reiterate our call for the immediate implementation of pill testing in NSW.”
“Pill testing is a crucial harm reduction measure that can save lives and prevent tragic incidents like those witnessed in Melbourne.”
Pill testing allows a person with a drug to find out what’s actually in it, helping them make more informed decisions about whether they ought to consume it. This approach moves away from punitive measures, which can often increase drug harm.
NSW Premier Chris Minns has continued to ignore calls to introduce pill testing, saying that the approach is not a “silver bullet” to harm prevention, and that he wants to wait for the Drug Summit before reforming drug policy.
Acting Victoria Premier Ben Carroll similar disagreed with pill testing, saying he doesn’t believe the measure is “needed right now”.
“We don’t want people taking drugs in the first place – that’s the most important message we can get through.”
But there is growing evidence that sniffer dogs are ineffective and that strip searches are often unlawful and humiliating.
In September 2023, a survey conducted by the police watchdog found that only 27 per cent of NSW Police strip searches in the past 2 years had complied with rules designed to protect people’s privacy and dignity.
Ms Shelly is calling on the government to end the “punitive approach to policing” at music festivals and other venues.
“NSW Police search figures have shown an average drug dog detection success rate of just 25 per cent over the last decade, while deaths have been attributed to overdoses resulting from the fear of drug dog detection,” she said.
“We also hope that the government will consider even more significant steps in the longer term to address the complex issues surrounding drug use and festival safety,” she added.