Opinion

Testing time for all involved

by
May 01, 2018

Sunday’s Groovin the Moo event in Canberra was the first to conduct a pill-testing trial. Picture: AAP/Patrick Sison

While the sea of festival-goers were busily preparing their glittered cheekbones and securing their tickets ahead of this year’s festival season, preparations of another kind took place behind the scenes ahead of Groovin the Moo’s Canberra leg.

Thousands of excited patrons flocked to the event at Canberra University on Sunday.

The popular festival, established by Cattleyard Promotions in 2005, has built a strong reputation in more than a decade of operation.

In 2009, event promoters secured the regular locations of Townsville, Maitland and Bendigo with the Canberra leg added the following year.

Eight years on, the ACT Government, police and event venue Canberra University came together ahead of the April festival date with the aim of introducing pill-testing at this year’s event.

The pill-testing trial would enable patrons to visit a tent, conducted by Safety and Testing and Advisory Service at Festivals and Events, where they could determine what substances were in their drugs.

Ahead of the event, organiser Cattleyard Promotions was cautious about coming on board, with the promoters only confirming testing would go ahead just a week before the festival.

The push to have pill-testing at the Canberra event came after a failed attempt at popular Canberra festival Spilt Milk late last year.

Harm minimisation advocates argued the pill-testing centre would allow the drug-taker to know exactly what substances were in their drugs and they could, therefore, make an informed decision on whether they would take it or not.

As a festival-goer myself, the idea seemed like a bizarre notion and a complete back-peddle on past events.

In times past, festival attendees would have been met with sniffer dogs at the entrance to events.

There had always been a strong criminalisation approach but this would regularly lead to reckless drug-taking behaviour.

People would often consume all the drugs in their pockets before being intercepted by the dogs in fear they would be arrested and this would, in turn, lead to overdoses inside the festival grounds.

During the years, instances of overdoses and deaths at festivals have ignited the conversation to adopt pill-testing.

But the huge problem posed by the pill-testing trial was the fact illicit drugs are just that — illegal in Australia.

Many argued the pill-testing would encourage drug taking.

And once given the go-ahead, questions still loomed regarding whose responsibility it would be if an individual still overdosed after their drugs were tested.

Reports yesterday suggested the pill-testing trial was a success, with many using the service during the event.

A news.com article quoted STA-SAFE member Matt Hoffs who said 128 people took part in the service and that two of the substances were deadly.

As a result, he hailed the trial a success.

‘‘So, harm reduced. We did it,’’ he tweeted.

It will be interesting to see the commentary in the coming weeks after the trial and if future festival promoters and venues adopt a similar harm-reduction approach.

Tara Whitsed is a News journalist.

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