Pill Testing at Australian Festivals

Over the past week Australian media outlets have been bombarded with updates on the infamous Groovin The Moo festival held in Canberra; more specifically, the first pill testing trial that is unsurprisingly causing a huge debate.

Pill testing hasn’t always been around in Australia, but it’s slowly being introduced despite its appearance at various European festivals for nearly the past 10 years.

The idea and broad debate on the anonymous service, targeting over 18 festivals was tossed around late September of 2017 for Spilt Milk. Ticket holders were in shock – will I be charged with drug possession? Will they take my drugs?

Sadly, the pill-testing idea was canned almost a month after being announced – just a mere 43 days before the festival itself.

Almost half a year later and 13 years since it’s opening, on Sunday 29th April 2018, Groovin The Moo Canberra decided to take the plunge to trial whether this pill testing would actually work.

Organisers of Groovin the Moo Canberra teamed up with Harm Reduction Australia. They were able to set up a designated area at the festival purely dedicated to testing illicit drugs from ticket holders. The service was completely anonymous and ACT Police weren’t able to charge testers.

The aim was to identify any potentially deadly chemicals that were buried in the powdered walls of the pills being brought along. The team did just that.

With 128 participants and 85 samples tested, the results were clear: 50% contained other ingredients such as lactose, sweetener and paint, and the other 50% was pure MDMA. Two of the samples tested at the service came back with a result of it containing deadly substances.

Harm Reduction Australia rejoiced – their aim was successfully met. They were able to inform 128 participants, and better yet, they were able to save two lives.

There’s no doubt that drug circulation throughout Australia has reached an all-time high. And to coat it all off, illicit drugs today are surprisingly more accessible especially to the younger population. As a result of this, death rates from illicit drug intake has unfortunately increased.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Drug Induced Deaths Increase in 2016 report, “the death rate from psychostimulants which include methamphetamines and the drug ‘ice’ have quadrupled since 1999. They are now the third most common substances associated with drug deaths.”

President and Co-Founder of Harm Reduction Australia, Gino Vumbaca, recently spoke to David Adams from Pedestrian.TV in regards to the results that were released about the two tests that came back with deadly ingredients. Mr Vumbaca said, “two of the pills actually produced a chemical that is considered even in small doses quite dangerous, and potentially could create an overdose… the reality is if we weren’t there, they probably would have ingested them.”

Groovin The Moo. Image HerCanberra website

Thankfully amnesty drug bins were provided at the event so that festival-goers were able to dispose of any illicit drugs. As well as that, ACT Police supported the pill testing trial and withheld from arresting anyone who conducted the test – it was completely anonymous despite the drugs being tested, possibly illicit.

Mr Vumbaca continued to explain to Pedestrian.TV that designated pill-testing areas and drug amnesty bins should be a norm at Australian festivals.

“There’s no reason for Australia not to introduce pill-testing based on our initial observations.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics, Causes of Death 2016 survey states that there’s a staggering 7.5 deaths per 100,000 people that is as a result from drug induced relations. With the positive yet horrific results achieved by Harm Reduction Australia, there’s some hope that future festivals from this point on could be different in various aspects.

Finally, as a frequent festival goer myself, I think the idea of anonymous pill testing is an excellent method of tackling unfortunate incidents that occur at Australian festivals. With these anonymous testing stalls, so many young adults now have the potential to realise the ingredients and affects behind the pills that they wish to consume. The information gained from the test could potentially deter the owner from consuming the substance. My opinion is that these pill-testing areas and amnesty bins may decrease drug intake and cultivation as a whole.

If you are in need of any help regarding these issues, please contact:

Police: 000
Lifeline: 131 114
Narcotics Anonymous Australia: 1300 652 820