#REALTALK: Seven Lives Saved At Canberra Music Festival, Premier Still Convinced There’s “No Such Evidence” That Pill Testing Works

For the second year in a row, Canberra’s Groovin The Moo (GTM) Festival were the leaders of the pack when it comes to pill testing in Australia.

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According to Pill Testing Australia, 234 punters voluntarily took part in the testing services, some waiting patiently for up to 20 minutes to have their substances examined. Yes, you read correctly, young people would literally rather wait in line than watch Billie Eilish or Trophy Eyes if it means potentially minimising the risks associated with recreational drug use.

Young people are prioritising drug safety, so why isn’t the NSW Premier?

This year’s event saw 171 substances tested, which is more than double the amount of pills tested at the 2018 event. Of these 171 pills, seven contained n-ethylpentylone, a potentially lethal substance. If you’re not familiar with the substance, n-ethylpentylone can cause many health concerns including cardiovascular issues, hallucinations and even death. So, it is absolutely paramount that harm-reduction strategies are implemented to keep this stuff out of the bodies of festival goers.

“We helped reduce drug-related harm by giving young people access to a medical service they would not have had otherwise.” Pill Testing Australia president and co-founder Gino Vambuca says.

In addition to preventing substances like n-ethylpentylone making it into the bodies of young punters, these pill testing services also give us a full look at precisely what drugs are being distributed within the community. MDMA, Cocaine and Ketamine were among the most popular substances found, but it was also discovered that the purity of the drugs tested this year has drastically increased.

If we can see that this has made a real impact here and I think the facts show that, that seven dangerous substances were identified and all people then chose to use the amnesty bin to get rid of those substances.
[ Meegan Fitzharris ]

Knowing the purity of the substances also helped punters take more responsible doses, with some participants noting that they either planned to minimise their dose, or abstain from the drug altogether.

Unlike Berejeklian, ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris shows an openmindedness to the harm-reduction strategy. While she did note that the Government is awaiting the results of an independent review, she seems to be able to see that pill testing has made a positive impact on the safety of punters at the festival overall.

“If we can see that this has made a real impact here and I think the facts show that, that seven dangerous substances were identified and all people then chose to use the amnesty bin to get rid of those substances.” Fitzharris describes how she would measure the success of the program.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, this view wasn’t exactly shared by Premier Gladys Berejeklian. The possible prevention of seven drug-related deaths in one day at one single festival is not enough to have the NSW politician convinced.

In a recent Seven News interview Berejeklian reiterated her nonsense that “they [Pill Testing Australia] haven’t shown there’s any evidence yet.” If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same uneducated word-vomit she spewed out late last year after the 5th drug-related (and incredibly preventable) death in one festival season.

In the 2018 festival season, five people lost their lives to drug-related complications that could’ve been prevented with pill testing.

Sydney music festival deaths: Two young people dead – news.com.au (September 2018)

One dead after suspected drug overdose at Knockout Games of Destiny dance festival – ABC News (December 2018)

Woman dies at FOMO festival in Sydney after taking unidentified substance – ABC News (January 2019)

All of these headlines (and many more) flooded the media throughout the 2018/19 festival season. And how many more is it going to take before something is actually done?

A young man from Western Sydney, a female student from North Melbourne. These aren’t just statistics. These are real people, whose lives aren’t too different from yours or your best friend’s. So why are we letting them die because there isn’t enough “evidence” to support pill testing?

If it weren’t for these services in Canberra last week, we could’ve seen seven more names plastered across news articles just like these. Seven more lives tragically cut short. “There’s no intervention that stops all people consuming drugs, but that’s not really our goal,” Mr Vambuca said, “our goal is to ensure that people don’t get hurt or killed consuming drugs.”

Currently, ACT is the only territory in Australia that allows pill testing services to take place at music festivals and other recreational events legally, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like NSW is about to follow suit. Especially not if Gladys Berejeklian has anything to do with it.

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