400,000 Australians, aged between 14 and 29 took ecstasy in 2015.
7 of them died.
800 of them were admitted into hospital emergency departments.
(Duff, E 2016)
Over a ten year period, ecstasy usage was measured by Project Know, it found that “almost a quarter of the ingredients found in Australian ecstasy found to be totally unidentifiable” (Butler, J 2015), making Australia’s ecstasy one of the most dangerous in the world.
Research has shown that there is a high risk that those who consume recreational drugs in Australia, specifically ecstasy are blindly ingesting toxic substances.
Pill testing is a harm minimisation strategy, which calls on educating the consumer on what they are about to take, and the risks involved around that; “to make sure they’re (drugs) are pure, make sure what consumers are buying is what the product is being represented as”, “the alternative is to take something blindly” (“What’s In My Baggie?” [Documentary], 2014).
The video below provides an explanation of the current situation surrounding ‘pill testing at music festivals’ in Australia.
The current Australian Government is in favour of enforcing harsher sentencing and heavier policing, with the belief that pill testing is “incentivising the manufacture, supply and use of these dangerous substances,” (Cooke, T 2015), despite the evidence of pill testing in Europe, “where they’ve had testing for 25 years and have lower rates of drug usage and no deaths” (Purtill, J 2015).
The video above is a trailer for the documentary“What’s In My Baggie?” showing the response and results of drug testing at a US music festival. While these consumers found the testing effective, not all responses regarding pill testing is as positive. Readers of the Huffington Post article by pill testing advocate and mother of Daniel, who died from a suspected drug overdose in 2012 responded to the idea of pill testing in a conflicting manner with opinions of “do the crime, do the time” (Elliot, J 2016), and”the only way to stop this is if anyone were to get caught dealing, selling, possession, using or taking drugs will get the Death Penalty. This will stop a lot of kids in a heartbeat.” (Maguire, J 2016).
Professor Alison Ritter, drug policy researcher and Director of the Drug Policy Modelling Program (DPMP) at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at the University of New South Wales, believes “effectiveness (of pill testing) is strongly grounded in evidence” (Ritter, A 2014). Her beliefs follow that pill testing has shown to…
…impact the black market
- “Products identified as particularly dangerous that subsequently became the subject of warning campaigns were found to leave the market.” (Ritter, A 2014)
…affect consumption choices
- 50% of those who had their drugs tested at festivals in Austria, “said the results affected their consumption choices. Two-thirds said they wouldn’t consume the drug and would warn friends in cases of negative results.” (Ritter, A 2014)
…allow for data creation
- Drug testing has created “an important opportunity for providing support and information” (Ritter, A 2014) in regards to drug abuse, and education, allowing “drug services to contact a population that is otherwise difficult to reach” (Ritter, A 2014), this includes those who may be taking high risk drugs, but not be seeing instant symptoms;
- The testing also allows for a trend analysis of drugs over a long term period, potentially allowing for predictions of future trends
It is difficult to see whether different opinions in the media are because of lack of knowledge of drug testing or if Facebook rants are valid (would the death penalty stop consumers taking recreational drugs?). Currently the criminalisation of recreational drugs makes the introduction of pill testing logistically difficult, as well as financing the program (should the Government aka the tax payers have to pay and if not will pill testing be inconsistent if consumers have to finance it?), and there is debate of whether a trial of drug testing would allow for a review and assessment of how it would play out at Australian music festivals.
Research has shown that enforcing a zero tolerance policy for recreational drugs has proven difficult. However, will the introduction of pill testing help consumers make better decisions regarding their drug use?
I will be researching this question, and how opinions vary, looking at readership of various media (comments and how they vary on posts regarding drug testing, as well as the bias of certain articles), data analysis (especially of trends of drug testing in Europe, 2014 Drug Trends Conference, United Nations 2014 World Drug Report, Project Know’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ study), documentaries (focus on US-based ‘What’s in my Baggie’), news media (notably ABC Four Corners ‘Dying to Dance’, Triple J Hack radio program, Sydney Morning Herald, SBS), Australian drug law reform groups (Unharm, Drug Law Reform Australia, Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform), petitions in response to pill testing at music festivals. I will also be conducting surveys in regards to university student’s views and opinions of drug testing and its alternatives, and the perceived decision making process of drug consumption. This research will compare the views and opinions of university students with statistical data and evidence, to see if perceptions of pill testing are consistent with reported evidence.
Between 2002-2012, nearly 8,000 died due to accidental drug overdoses (Purtill, J 2015), would these deaths have been prevented by increased awareness of what these consumers were taking?
Buccianti, A 2016, ‘My Son Died At A Music Festival. This Is Why I Support Pill Testing’, Huffington Post, 12 January, viewed March 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/adriana-buccianti/my-son-died-at-a-music-festival-this-is-why-i-support-pill-testing_b_8951558.html>
Butler, J 2015, ‘Music Festivals, Drugs And Pill Testing’, 29 December, viewed March 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2015/12/29/music-festival-drugs_n_8886364.html>
Cooke, T 2015, retrieved from ‘Bob Carr backs call for pill testing to tackle drug-related deaths’, SBS News, 7 December, viewed March 2016, <http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/12/06/bob-carr-backs-call-pill-testing-tackle-drug-related-deaths>
Duff, E 2016, ‘Pill testing trial to begin at Sydney music festivals, vows drug expert Alex Wodak’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February, viewed March 2016, <http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/pill-testing-trial-to-begin-at-sydney-music-festivals-vows-drug-expert-alex-wodak-20160227-gn59zu.html>
Elliot, J 2016, ‘You’ve heard the expression…’, James Elliot, Facebook, 15 January, viewed March 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/adriana-buccianti/my-son-died-at-a-music-festival-this-is-why-i-support-pill-testing_b_8951558.html>
Maguire, J 2016, ‘the only way to stop…’, Jerry Maguire, Facebook, 15 January, viewed March 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/adriana-buccianti/my-son-died-at-a-music-festival-this-is-why-i-support-pill-testing_b_8951558.html>
Purtill, J 2015, ‘Will the Stereosonic drug death bring back pill testing?’, Triple J Hack, 1 December, viewed March 2016, <http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/will-sylvia-choi’s-stereosonic-death-change-pill-testing-policy/6991736>
McKeith, S 2016, ‘NSW Government Pledges To Crack Down On Festival Drug Use’, Huffington Post, 2 January, viewed March 2016, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/01/01/field-day-drugs_n_8903586.html>
Ritter, A 2014, ‘Six reasons Australia should pilot ‘pill testing’ party drugs’, The Conversation, 12 November, viewed March 2016, <http://theconversation.com/six-reasons-australia-should-pilot-pill-testing-party-drugs-34073>
Schafter, M 2015, Deaths highlight ecstasy dangers but does zero-tolerance put lives at risk?, online video, 16 February, ABC 7:30, viewed March 2016, <http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2015/s4181233.htm>
Sélection de pilules d’ecstasy en 2015, image, Slate, viewed March 2016, <http://www.slate.fr/story/108845/legalisation-mdma-petite-musique-monte>
Tone Deaf 2015, ‘SIX DEAD, COUNTLESS OVERDOSES: WHY HAS AUSTRALIA’S MUSIC FESTIVAL CULTURE TURNED DEADLY?’, Tone Deaf, 7 December, viewed March 2016, <http://www.tonedeaf.com.au/466572/are-the-recent-deaths-at-aussie-music-festivals-a-cultural-problem.htm>