Pill testing has once again been forced to the forefront of the national dialogue surrounding recreational drug use after a collective of doctors said they would begin testing drugs at events regardless of the government’s support.
As Tone Deaf reported yesterday, Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Drug Law Reform Foundation, says he and a team of fellow doctors want to begin pill testing at music festivals in order to save the lives of young punters.
“The number of these deaths seems to be increasing,” Dr Wodak told ABC News, “the number of the presentations to emergency departments of people attending these events is increasing, and it doesn’t have to be like this.”
The group are hoping to raise $100,000 to cover the cost of equipment for one event as well as an independent review to measure the program’s impact on drug harms. Dr Wodak is hoping a few generous benefactors will contribute, with any shortfall made up for by a crowdfunding campaign.
According to a new report from Fairfax, the doctors are bracing themselves for mass arrests, asking members of the public to come forward and act as a shield between police and the toxicologists as part of a civil disobedience approach to the pill testing regime.
However, as was revealed on an episode of triple j current affairs program Hack last night, it’s not just the government whom drug harm minimisation advocates will need to manage, but festival organisers as well.
Naturally, most festival organisers support pill testing and any other measure that would provide a safer experience for their punters, but as Fuzzy chief John Wall pointed out, most organisers are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to pill testing.
One of the biggest promoters in the country, Fuzzy are the organisers of such festivals as Field Day, Listen Out, and Harbour Life, which was the event where Georgina Bartter ingested the drug that would eventually take her life.
“There’s a bit of research we need to do from our side, because we would like to have drug checking at our festivals. We support encouraging people to think and take responsibility for what they’re doing, so it’s something we think should happen and we should support it,” Wall told Hack.
"It's tricky – all of our events are run on govt land," says John Wall from Fuzzy about #pilltesting at Field Day, Listen Out, Harbour Life
— triplejHack (@triplejHack) February 29, 2016
However, Wall explained that for many organisers, their hands are tied and they’re forced into a situation of playing ball with the government. “It’s tricky,” Wall admitted, “all of our events are held on government land, I think every single one of them [laughs].”
Essentially, organisers need the approval of the government in order to hold their events on the government’s land, as well as requiring permits issued by local councils and law enforcement, and encouraging pill testing could potentially jeopardise such relationships.
“We’ve got to see if there’s a way that we can do it and still get and maintain approval to run the event,” said Wall. “It’s something we’ve got to look into. Obviously it’s come up a number of times and in the past it hasn’t got to the government level.”
“It’s been the police saying they’re not gonna stand by and let it happen. This is a little bit different, so we’re going to be looking into whether there’s something we can do. We’d have to first check whether that meant the festival could get completely shut down on the spot.”
Tim Harvey from Rainbow Serpent echoes Wall’s sentiment, saying his event also encourages anything that keeps punters safe and appealing to the better judgement of government officials to put politics aside in the effort to save lives.
“I can totally understand the desire to try something different,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious that the current strategies aren’t achieving the desired result and it’s time we listen to what the experts have to say and put the health and safety of Australians over ideology.”
“I think both sides need to step back for a second and realise how crazy that situation is where we need civil disobedience in an attempt to save people’s lives.”
“When it’s got to the stage where passions run so high that two individuals need to put their reputations and jobs and everything else on the line to try and move policy forward then I think that’s a pretty good indication that they’ve got something important to say and everyone should be listening to it.”
Indeed, the prospect of having a human shield standing between police and doctors attempting to test pills is frightening, but as Will Tregoning, the founder of Unharm, told Hack, now standardised, government-supported practices like injecting rooms began as civil disobedience.