The NSW coroner has said there is “compelling evidence” to support pill testing at music festival because it would encourage “behavioural change” in young people.
An inquest investigated the drug-related deaths of six young people aged 18 to 23 at the state’s music festivals over two summers. This included the death of 22-year-old Brisbane man Joshua Tam last December.
Deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame handed down her report handed down on Friday.
“I am in no doubt whatsoever there is sufficient evidence to support a drug-checking trial in this state,” she said.
“Of course drug-checking is not a magic solution to these tragic deaths. Of course its introduction will not guarantee further deaths will not occur.
“Drug checking is simply an evidence-based harm reduction strategy that should be trialled as soon as possible in NSW.”
She said research internationally had found the use of pill testing benefited public safety.
Grahame also controversially recommended personal drug use be decriminalised.
She also criticised heavy policing at public events, specifically drug sniffer dogs patrolling music festivals.
The “intimidating” dogs can lead to “panic ingestion” or “pre-loading” of drugs which can increase the likelihood of injury or death.
She said strip searches should be conducted on young people only when police have a “reasonable suspicion”.
“The fact is that in 2018–19 … strip searches after drug dog indication, drugs were found in 28.3 per cent of cases,” she said.
Grahame said current policing methods contributed to risk and provided little-to-no benefit.
“The evidence arising from this inquest clearly indicates there is much that can be done to prevent MDMA deaths,” she said.
She said there are “practical solutions” to some of the issues identified. However, the New South Wales government must approach the issue with “fresh eyes”, she said.
NSW Police respond to Coronial recommendations on pill testing and policing
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has consistently said pill testing sends the “wrong message” to young people.
“I went to the election with this position and I won’t be changing it. There is no such thing as a safe illegal drug,” she said.
However parents of the young people who have died at music festivals have urged government to “listen to the experts” on the issue.
In a statement, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said he rejected the suggestion police were “implicit” in the drug deaths.
He said music festivals “create a concentrated market for drug supply and organised criminal groups”.
“Our officers see the adverse effects of all forms of drugs on a daily basis, and our submissions to the inquest relied on a collective experience in relation to drug use and supply,” he said.
“From a policing perspective, we remain committed to reducing the supply of illicit drugs throughout NSW, including at music festivals.
“The personal use of illicit drugs is a significant health and social issue.
“I have always been in support of harm minimisation strategies, especially education as the first and most important step in this cycle.”
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