Australia is home to some of the most well-attended festivals in the world. One such festival, Groovin the Moo, was held in Canberra last year. This festival was unique in that researches for public health policies made a groundbreaking decision: they were encouraging festival goers to test illegal substances.
While it is certainly unconventional, it is a decision that stands to benefit public health policies in the future. At Groovin the Moo, attendees were allowed to test pills as a way for researchers to monitor the substances for potentially dangerous additives.
The irony of it all is that at music festivals, most authorities go out of their way to prevent people from possessing illegal drugs. However, this approach only encourages users to do drugs discreetly, which ultimately results in drug-related deaths. However, this new strategy proves having pill testing sites at festivals to be promising.
While public health officials that support these pill testing facilities acknowledge that there is no level of safe drug consumption, they still believe this strategy to be the best stance to take towards illegal drug use. While participants in these tests have to fill out disclaimers, there is medical assistance on site in case of emergency. Moreover, users that are in need of medical assistance must attend counseling sessions to educate them on drug use and the subsequent consqeuences.
The trial effort at Groovin the Moo was successful. The organizers acknowledged that the pill testing sites prevented festival goers from taking hazardous substances unknowingly. Despite such reports, other Australian states and their local governments are opposed to the idea.
However, the drug-related deaths at festivals without pill testing sites are hard to ignore. Gino Vumbaca, an organizer from the Groovin the Moo test run, holds that festivals that aren’t taking part in this sanctioned drug use are responsible for these needless deaths.
Though this concept of discouraging unsafe drug use may seem like an outlandish new idea, it isn’t. It has even been tried in the United States. Some European countries even use these facilities regularly at their music festivals. As more research comes out regarding this approach to drug use, drug-related hospital admissions, and drug-related deaths, New Zealand and Australia are seeing more support for these pill testing sites.
New Zealand’s police minister Stuart Nash is quite supportive of the idea. Asserting that these sites be “installed at all our festivals”, he still encourages authorities to proceed with caution to fully understand all of the potential consequences and implications.
Nash hopes this idea is a step forward in the war on drugs. As aggressive as attempts to police drug use have been in the past, they haven’t worked quite as well as these pill testing sites.
Despite the success and potential for the future, critics fear that this approach to drug use will encourage more people to try drugs. Moreover, they worry that the on-site facilities are inaccurate and unsafe as they most often have a limited amount of equipment.
Supporters, however, counter that pill testing is changing the black market. They claim that this method will decrease drug consumption across the board. They believe that any negative experiences will encourage people to warn friends, as well as swear of the substances themselves.
Though police officers don’t involve themselves in the tests directly, authorities have “tolerance areas” around the testing tents, ensuring consumers aren’t arrested for having or using drugs. When taking part in the testing, volunteers use lab equipment in order to examine the pills using infrared light. This will allow users to determine if a drug is contaminated or not. These testing sites allow festival goers to see that their substances may not be safe. Thus, encouraging them to unload their paraphernalia into police custody.
Ultimately, these tests raise awareness for the dangers of drug use. If nothing else, these sites show users firsthand the dangers contaminated substances pose.
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