We Asked Drug Dealers How They've Been Affected by Festival Deaths

"I'm definitely seeing more caution and questions being asked. Buyers now want to see the product beforehand and know how other people have reacted."

by Sam Nichols
19 February 2019, 9:30am

Image of pills on left is via Wikimedia, image on right is by www.francescovicenzi.eu under a CC 2.0 licence

This article originally appeared on VICE AU.

It's been another tragic summer of young people dying at music festivals. In NSW the coroner has initiated an inquest into the deaths of five people at festivals across the state, all of whom are suspected to have died after taking illicit drugs. This comes with a resumption of the same old debate about legalised pill testing. Supporters say such a program would save lives, critics claim that it will just condone law-breaking, and still we don't seem any closer to a meaningful solution.

There is, however, one perspective has been notably absent, and that’s from the people who are selling the drugs. So VICE got in contact with three dealers to hear how they’ve been affected; if they’re employing any strategies to minimise risk; and if they’re selling less drugs now that politicians have resumed telling people to “just say no.”

For obvious reasons, all names have been changed.

Dom supplies other dealers with ecstasy, MDMA, ketamine, amphetamines, and cocaine

VICE: Hey Dom. The safety of drugs has been in the news. Have you noticed any recent dips in business or concerns from customers?
Dom: I'm definitely seeing more caution and questions being asked. Whether buyers are experienced or they're new to the scene, they all now want to see the product beforehand and know how other people have reacted. But sales in general don't decline with bad press. I’ve noticed sometimes that bad press just annoys younger people when the wrong information is being projected, rather than making them think they should stop.

You say “the wrong information.” Are you suggesting that the drugs you sell are safe?
Look, the product may be safe, but if someone has a great time on one pill, that doesn't mean they should have three next time. People take too much for their own good. And the risk of mixing drugs and other substances, like prescription medication or alcohol, is often overlooked too. There needs to be more education, especially in high schools.

And you think pill-testing would save lives?
It may not save all lives—there are so many variables at play here—but any initiative that could help to educate a generation seems like a great idea. Drugs will always be around, and the government has definitely adapted other policy changes in the past, so allowing testing at music festivals seems like something that should’ve happened years ago. Drugs can be great, but pushing them further underground is just harmful.

But not everyone believes it’ll help. Andrew Bolt, for example, recently said it'd just encourage more people to get high.
Yeah, well, pill testing is still fresh. It will take years of the practice being implemented to get it right, but if these tests save any lives or minimise an overdose, they're worth it.

Right, and is there anything you’re doing to save lives?
I always buy from trusted sources that have been around for years with proven quality. If you compromise quality for costs then that’s when mistakes happen and people get sick. It’s important for people supplying to ensure safety. The last thing anyone wants is to hurt someone.

That makes sense, but it’s clearly not foolproof. Have you ever found yourself selling something that was actually unsafe?
I have. A bad batch of pills got through to us and as soon as we tested them and they came up negatively [for MDMA], as many as possible were withdrawn and destroyed. Unfortunately, there will always be cooks or people in charge who value profit over health. It's about those at a street level taking control over what gets into the nightclubs and festivals.

Pat sells cocaine and occasionally MDMA

Hey Pat, as you’d know a lot of politicians have been warning people to not take drugs. What’s your take on that?
I think it’s really stupid. People are always going to take drugs, people have always taken drugs, and if people are concerned about what they take then maybe they shouldn’t take them. It’s a risk you take every time you take drugs. You just don’t know what’s in them.

Have you noticed any dip in your business?
Of course not. People always want drugs. They just want to know what they’re cut with, because they want to know if it’s good quality. That’s all.

There’s a lot of talk about pill-testing at the moment. Earlier this year Liberal MP Jeremy Hanson and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro both claimed that pill-testing will only encourage drug use. Where do you stand on this idea?
Yeah well I think it’s true. If they’re doing pill-testing, they’re saying it’s okay to take pills, so I do kind of agree with them. But that’s not a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with taking drugs. People have always used drugs. Hell, coffee is a drug. So is alcohol. Illegal drugs are just dangerous because they are illegal, so all drugs should be legalised. That’s what I think.

Are there any parameters you put in place to ensure that what you’re selling isn’t dangerous?
Yeah definitely. I wouldn’t sell it unless I took and tested it myself. I talk to my suppliers and hope they’re honest about it. Then I test it on myself so I can tell people buying that I’ve had it, what it does, and its strength.

So dealer to buyer, what’s your advice on staying safe?
Just microdose. And don’t take it all at once. Everyone should try a little bit out themselves, before taking a full recommended dose.

Ash sells ecstasy and MDMA

Hey Ash, with all these festival deaths politicians have been telling everyone to just say no. Has this affected business for you at all?
Not really. Although having said that Christmas and New Years were definitely quieter, and last winter was the quietest I’ve experienced in some time. But people have been hesitant about [ecstasy] for a couple of years now. A couple of people shifted away from MDMA when those people died at Revolver a while ago, but a good pusher can predict the waves and go with it. People are definitely still buying pills, along with basically everything else. They’re just a little more inquisitive about what pills contain, which is smart.

Let’s talk about the solutions here. Some believe pill-testing is an option, while most right-wing politicians insist that harsher penalties and holding festivals more accountable is the answer. What side are you on? Prohibition or prevention?
There’s literally nobody of sound mind that could spin pill testing as a bad idea, unless they’re some backwards A Current Affair-watching hick. To think that pressing the “prevent the drug use” angle is going to stop some 20-year-olds from taking drugs is ludicrous.

But do you think that pill testing will realistically solve the overdose problem?
No, not overdosing, although it would stop people from taking bad pills. Every time you hear a report of some people "overdosing" from "pills" at a festival like Defqon or something, what you’re actually reading it just the media's limited understanding of drugs and what happens when they’re mixed with other drugs and alcohol.

Is there anything you specifically do to ensure what you’re selling is as safe as it can be? Or that people are safe?
I don’t really try much of the MDMA and pill-related stuff that I sell, but that’s simply because I don’t like the feeling of those drugs. I have a 100 percent return policy for whatever reason the customer wants and I usually get new batches of anything tested. I have a trusted friend who’s a chemist so we know exactly what’s in everything we’re selling. I'm not out here to hurt kids in nightclubs.

Is that common for dealers to test as vigorously as you do?
Not really, but most lower level dealers are people who are actually out there partying, so they would be more likely to take their own drugs or be selling drugs to party for a lower cost.

We talk a lot about safety, but can anyone truly be 100 percent safe on drugs, especially synthetic ones?
Unless you were educated to the point where you’re able to watch the drug be manufactured and know what was going on at every point until it was in your body, nobody can be 100 percent safe.

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