18 April 2023

Groovin the Moo fails to secure pill testing again as insurers remain risk averse

| Lizzie Waymouth
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Microscope in CanTEST pill testing site

While Groovin the Moo is unable to host pop-up drug testing, festivalgoers can use the ACT’s fixed-site testing facility, CanTEST. Photo: Pill Testing Australia.

Pill testing will not be available onsite at this year’s Groovin the Moo festival in Canberra after exorbitant insurance premiums meant the service was too costly to offer, but CanTEST is expanding its services on the festival weekend.

Canberra’s Groovin the Moo hosted pop-up drug testing facilities in 2018 and 2019, organised by Harm Reduction Australia. However, when the festival returned in 2022 with plans to resume the service, the insurer pulled out at the final moment and a replacement could not be found.

“We are not permitted to provide this important and potentially lifesaving public health service for young people without insurance, and yet despite all the risk mitigation and protocols in place for the service, not one insurance company seems prepared to insure the service,” Harm Reduction Australia CEO Gino Vumbaca said at the time.

The insurer had previously offered premiums of around $10,000. In 2023, when Harm Reduction Australia sought to find a new broker, they were quoted a premium of $220,000.

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Mr Vumbaca told Region they “searched all over the world” to find an insurer that would take them on, eventually finding one in Toyko, but the premium quoted showed that the broker did not want to take on their business.

“They don’t want the business but feel obliged to give you a quote … It’s an impossible bar to reach,” he said.

He said that insurers don’t have any risk appetite for anything related to drugs, despite the fact Harm Reduction Australia has proven experience in reducing the risk of harm at previous events, and has the support of the ACT Government and festival organisers.

“The main risk is drug-related overdose … We actually reduce the likelihood of that happening,” Mr Vumbaca said. “We don’t understand. Nothing makes sense.

“It’s horrendous to allow insurance companies to decide what public health programs we can and can’t have in this country, and that’s what they’re doing.”

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The ACT has led the way in Australia in offering pill testing, being the first jurisdiction in the country to offer a fixed-site drug-checking service.

The pop-up testing program is a proven success. At Groovin the Moo in 2019, 234 people used the services and seven potentially harmful substances were found.

“Participants were more willing to use healthcare providers, brief intervention providers/peer counsellors, home pill testing kits, and written harm reduction materials after attending the service. In terms of behavioural change, service data shows that all those who had a very dangerous substance detected disposed of that drug in the amnesty bin,” the trial report said.

In 2022, the launch of CanTEST, the first government-backed permanent drug testing site, was a huge milestone. Mr Vumbaca said that the number of people using the service shows that there is considerable demand.

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Ahead of this year’s Groovin the Moo on Sunday (23 April), CanTEST will be operating on Saturday for the first time in anticipation of higher demand for the service and to ensure festivalgoers are well informed about the risks of drug use. The service usually only operates on Thursdays from 10 am to 1 pm and Fridays from 6 pm to 9 pm.

CanTEST previously held extended opening hours ahead of Spilt Milk festival last year, and Mr Vumbaca said that a “huge number of people” used the testing facilities.

He expects this weekend will be no different: “I have no doubt on Saturday we’ll be inundated with people wanting to test.

“There’s an assumption that people who take drugs don’t care about themselves … But what they don’t want to do is end up in the back of an ambulance. They want to know what they’re taking,” he said.

Groovin the Moo takes place in Exhibition Park on Sunday, 23 April.

For more information about pill testing in the ACT, contact CanTEST or Harm Reduction Australia.

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Capital Retro6:54 pm 18 Apr 23

The insurers obviously aren’t aware that recreational drugs condoned by the ACT government are harmless.

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