Below is an abridged written submission by Tony Trimingham OAM on behalf of Family Drug Support in relation to the coronial inquiry into music festival deaths.
There are currently reports in the media that the coroner has recommended key strategies from Tony’s submission. For example, police presence can cause more harm than good, and that they should abolish sniffer dogs and body searches. Secondly, pill testing should be trialled, as the most important thing is to keep people safe and alive. Politicians still need to be convinced to allow trials to begin. FDS will continue to lobby that the coroner's recommendations should be taken seriously.
FDS supports pill testing
- FDS has been an advocate for pill testing since first learning about it being offered in Europe approximately 20 years ago.
- The worst thing a family can experience in dealing with drug issues is the death of a family member. Our organisation believes preventing death and keeping people safe should be the first priority of drug policy and services to address the drug problem.
- FDS receives more than 35 000 contacts per annum and over 2000 families attend our support groups and courses each year.
- Drug deaths have escalated in the last three years and I have personally spoken to more people who have experienced bereavement in the last six months, than in the last six years. The pain of losing someone well before their time and to a death that is preventable is almost impossible to bear.
- We receive a lot of calls from families to talk about pill testing. These include some of the families who have lost people at festivals, but a lot more calls are from people with family members who attend festivals and take substances. Nobody can understand why we have not adopted pill testing at every festival. It is very disappointing to hear that the only argument governments ever put forward against pill testing is that it will give someone a green light to use drugs.
- Nobody can say or does say that any drug use is safe to use, however, what we do know is that some pills and capsules contain substances that are definitely unsafe to use. This is the main reason we should introduce pill testing without delay.
- Other positive reasons for pill testing is that it allows interaction between the doctors, chemists and counsellors with people who are attending the festivals and who intend to consume substances. This interaction is invaluable.
- As well as this, testing substances at festivals gives an early warning of what substances are being used, particularly when they are new on the scene.
- For these reasons we need pill testing and there are no arguments to counter this.
- “Front of house” versus “back of house” pill testing.
- There is a debate between “front of house” and “back of house” pill testing. We believe front of house testing is the only way that is acceptable to families. It means the testing is included in the medical section of the festival, it is clearly marked so people can see what it is and people have easy access to it. It is in an environment where people can have casual and safe communication with the experts.
- The families we have spoken with consider front of house testing has the great advantage of critical engagement with festival attendees.
- The alternative method, “back of house” testing which has been proposed by many people and seems to be popular with governments, is not something we could ever endorse. In this scenario, the testing is done towards the rear of the event and is under the control of and monitored by the police.
- Also, with back of house testing, the results of the tests are not conveyed directly to the festival goer but are put on noticeboards and on forums such as Facebook.
- The families we have spoken to do not want pill testing that is managed by police. The idea that back of house testing is better than nothing is not acceptable to FDS and the families we represent. We say there is evidence that front of house pill testing is better as a harm minimisation strategy than back of house testing and should be the preferred model.
- FDS is also concerned about the presence of police and sniffer dogs at festivals causing more harm than good. There have been reports of people seeing them and consuming their drugs, sometimes with tragic outcomes. There are other reports of police harassing people and conducting improper strip searches.