Music

Pill Testing is Coming to Australian Music Festivals

Next month’s Rabbit Eats Lettuce festival will etch its name in the history books as the first event in an Australian state to offer pill-testing services.

Set for the Easter long weekend, from March 28-April 1, the electronic and dance-specialist fest is at home near Warwick in the south-east corridor of Queensland — the first Australian state or territory to commit to supporting pill testing on an ongoing basis.

Partygoers will have access to free, voluntary, and confidential pill testing by an “appropriately qualified chemist,” reads a statement from state government, which is tipping in nearly A$1 million ($660,000) in investment over two years.

“I am thrilled to be supporting new and innovative services to help reduce harms from illicit drug use,” comments minister for health, mental health and ambulance service Shannon Fentiman.

These services, Fentiman continues, “are all about harm minimization; we don’t want people ending up in our emergency departments – or worse losing their life.”

According to figures published by Queensland government, 2,231 drug-induced deaths were reported in Australia in 2021– the equivalent of five deaths each day.

“That’s 2,231 deaths too many,” Fentiman continues, “and we know this number will continue to grow if we don’t act now.”

In 2019, two people died after consuming drugs at Rabbit Eats Lettuce.

Harm Reduction Australia is contracted to deliver “several” festival-based services in 2024 and 2025 following an open market tender process. The state government has also engaged the University of Queensland to conduct an evaluation of the services and to develop a statewide monitoring process.

Also, through a healthcare partnership, fixed-site services will operate at two locations in south-east Queensland, including one in Bowen Hills, central Brisbane, and “at least one festival-based service” in 2024.

It’s a “step in the right direction in reducing drug-related harm,” Rabbits Eat Lettuce festival organizer Eric Lamir tells the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and, through the process, police have been “extremely supportive” in preparing for the gathering. Data captured from chemical tests will be shared with the festival’s medical staff, which “means our paramedics and doctors will be able to have up-to-date data on what drugs might be circulating at the event.”

The public debate on pill testing in Australia has rumbled on for years, and entered a trial phase for the first time at the Groovin the Moo festival in the Australian Capital Territory in April 2018, where two potentially deadly samples were identified and half the drugs tested were found to contain no psychoactive substances.

Off the back of that trial and others in Canberra, Queensland developed testing protocols, and gave the green light for chemically-checking drugs in February 2023

With pill testing services rolling out proper at the 15th edition of Rabbits Eat Lettuce, an “important milestone” is notched “in the ongoing efforts of Queensland to reduce drug related harms,” comments a spokesperson for Pill Testing Australia, “and we know the patrons of the festival and their families and friends will greatly appreciate the availability of this vital public health service.”

Read more here.

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