It seems that party-starting electronic trio Art Vs Science and a panel of drug safety and policy experts are in agreement: trialling a ban on sniffer dogs at music festivals is a good move.

Following Art Vs Science’s Dan McNamee penning an open letter arguing for the abandonment of using drug detection officers with canines at the imminent Splendour In The Grass festival in order to reduce the number of “hospitalisations due to people panicking upon sight of the dogs and ingesting their whole weekend’s supply of drugs,” researchers behind a study of summer festival-goers concur that removing the sniffer dogs could remove the risk.

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Caitlin Hughes was the lead researcher in a study conducted by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre into how sniffers dogs influenced the behaviour of festival patrons, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

The study found that 62% of the 500 New South Wales music fans surveyed showed that they would take drugs to an event with or without police presence at the gates. However, when sniffer dogs were added to the mix, it caused two key changes to the respondents’ answers.

“There was a 13 per cent increase in the number of people who said they’d use at least some of their drugs outside the venue, rather than using them all inside,” says Dr Hughes. “The other big change was a 40 per cent increase in the relative amount of consumption of ecstasy, methamphetamine and other drugs, as opposed to using cannabis.”

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Dr Hughes also argued that many punters were switching from the use of marijuana and cannabis to ecstasy and MDMA based on the belief that it was “reducing their potential risk of detection by the dog.”

Employing different strategies of drug detection could prove to discover a better option, Dr Hughes explains, saying that sniffer dogs had become a default methodology for police strategies towards music festival security. Offering that “given there are a lot of other police strategies that could be deployed at festivals” trialling a sniffer dog-free approach “may offer a safer form of policing at high drug use settings.”

“There’s certainly been a lot of consternation about this issue, so some sort of experiment might be a good idea…. but I’m not sure if police would be happy to participate.”

Following the high profile incident at last year’s Defqon.1 dance music festival in which 23-year old James Munro lost his life after ingesting three pills at the gates, NSW Detective Superintendent Nick Bingham admitted that the presence of sniffer dogs would spook punters to ingest stashed drugs over risk of a criminal charge, but argued that police should not be held responsible for doing their job.

“People have to be responsible for their own actions,” said the Drug Squad chief at the time. “You can’t blame the police for going out and policing a venue for trying to stop people from taking these substances. If they go, if they’re willing to, as you say, stuff these pills down their throat before they even go into the venue, that’s hardly the police’s fault.”

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Munro’s drug-related death is the latest case that’s been linked to using dogs to detect illicit substances but the opposition has stretched back to as far as the 2009 Big Day Out, where teenager Gemma Thoms gulped down three ecstasy tablets to avoid police detection, only to tragically wind up in the hospital morgue a day later.

Geoff Munro, the Australian Drug Foundation’s National policy manager indicates to Sydney Morning Herald that they “would support police and festival organisers using other measures to keep festival-goers safe and healthy during the event.”

Mr Munro says the organisation is concerned over the hospitalisations resulting from people ingesting all their drugs at the gate to avoid being caught and copping a criminal record. He added that while they were not ignoring “the reality [that] many people do take drugs at music festivals [we] need to all work together to make sure people come home safely.”

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