This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
On November 28 this year, pharmacist Sylva Choi died after drinking MDMA dissolved in water at Stereosonic in Sydney. A week later, at Adelaide's Stereosonic, Stefan Woodward was rushed to the hospital after taking ecstasy. Hours later, he was dead.
If there's one thing we can take from these tragedies, it's that despite their best intentions, lawmakers will not prevent future drug-related deaths at festivals through policing alone. Drugs will always find their way into festivals, and some of those drugs will be tainted.
Below is an open letter addressed to New South Wales Premier Mike Baird and Andrew Scipione, NSW Commissioner for Police, calling for a number of harm reduction measures to be instituted at music festivals. These include pill testing, as well as amnesty bins where unsafe drugs can be safely disposed of.
The letter is signed by prominent Australians including members of parliament, academics, and lawyers. If you'd like to add your name to that list, you can do so at this link.
To Mike Baird, Premier of NSW & Andrew Scipione, Commissioner for Police
This summer thousands of young people will attend music festivals around NSW. Many of these young people will choose to take drugs.
This summer hundreds of police and many drug detection dogs will also attend music festivals. Despite the increased presence of drug detection dogs the facts remain the same: many of the young people attending music festivals will choose to take drugs. Policing has not, and will not, stop this.
Recent deaths at music festivals in NSW and around the country mean we must act now.
Governments have an overriding obligation to ensure their response to drugs is evidence-based and works to reduce the harm that drug taking presents. Police operations are incapable of removing or seriously inhibiting the dangers presented by illegal drugs at music festivals. Therefore other options to reduce harm must be urgently considered.
Giving additional information to young people who choose to consume drugs allows them to discard drugs that pose an unacceptable risk. This can be done this summer if the NSW Police work with music festival organizers to allow for pill testing at music festivals.
Pill testing does not prove that a drug is safe. However it can identify known unsafe drugs as well as dangerous adulterants. If a drug fails the test it can then be safely discarded in an amnesty bin. Every drug discarded in this manner is a win for the health and safety of young people at music festivals.
Practice overseas where pill testing is allowed proves that not only does pill testing work on an individual basis it also works at a broader level by providing potentially life-saving information to other festival attendees who are planning to consume drugs. Once a drug has failed the pill testing then its image and details are shared on social media networks and news feeds, and at music festival pill testing stations.
Pill testing is a proven measure that reduces the risk of harm for young people who choose to take drugs. Health professionals are able to speak directly to festival-goers about the potential harms of drug use. Allowing pill testing is not a statement in support of drugs and it is not put forward as a perfect remedy.
Taking any illegal drug will always involve some risk. Unknown substances only make it riskier. More risk means more young people will die. Pill testing unambiguously reduces this risk.
Pill testing can save lives and it must be allowed to operate at this summer's music festivals. Therefore we, the undersigned, make the following united call:
We call on the NSW government and the NSW Police to work with music festival organizers to allow for immediate trials of independent pill testing to reduce harm to young people at this summer's festivals.
By not allowing pill testing at music festivals the NSW Police and Government are exposing young people to significantly elevated risks of harm. This cannot in good conscience be allowed to continue.
Dr Alex Wodak AM, President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation
David Shoebridge, Greens Upper House MP
Jenny Leong, Greens MP for Newtown
Kane Race, Associate Professor at University of Sydney
Mehreen Faruqi, Greens Upper House MP
Miles Hunt, Lawyer and co-founder of UnHarm
Dr Peta Malins, Lecturer at RMIT
Wil Tregoning, Director of UnHarm
If you feel like showing your support for meaningful harm reduction measures in Australia, you can do so by adding your name to the letter here.