Making music festivals safer

Rebecca Vassarotti 2 December 2016

Music festival

The weather is getting warmer and the nights are getting longer. If you are a young person you are likely to be turning your mind to music festival season. It may be a surprise to many older residents that with festivals such as Spilt Milk and Gooving the Moo, Canberra is a serious destination on the national music festival calendar.

Along with the music and dancing, we know that there is a significant number of young people that will take this opportunity to experiment with illicit drugs. While authorities have used a law enforcement approach to minimise illegal drug use at festivals, we still saw six young people lose their lives at festivals due to drug use in 2015.

These deaths were not inevitable. While individuals made a bad choice, it wasn’t necessary that these young people paid for this with their lives. The reality is that it is fear, ignorance and a lack of political will that is stopping us from introducing measures that could better protect young people. We choose not to introduce things we know will work merely because we are afraid it will send the wrong message.

Pill testing at festivals is a cheap, effective initiative that is used in countries around the world to educate, inform and support young people to make better decisions when it comes to taking drugs. Pill testing is offered after an individual has made a decision to take drugs, and provides a proactive opportunity to engage with those who are already fully intending to take a party drug. It provides an opportunity for trained experts to provide information about the quality and strength of drug a young person might be considering ingesting, provide information about the risks of drug taking, and inform people of supports for those who need help.

This was an issue discussed during the recent ACT election. While the ACT Greens called for the introduction of pill testing at festivals, the Labor Party confirmed that this was ‘not an endorsed government approach’ and the ACT Liberal Party suggested that it ‘effectively allow illegal drug dealers to certify their dangerous products’. It was a very disappointing demonstration of the inability of the major parties to move beyond rhetoric and work with experts to create a framework that could enable legal pill testing.

My children are yet to begin to navigate those challenging teenage years, and I look towards that future with a little bit of terror as well as excitement about the time that I won’t be able to keep them safe. I don’t want my kids or their friends to ever take drugs. I need to be realistic however, and I know that no matter what I say, or how good my parenting is, they might. As such, I need approaches that will support my role as a parent, and need our decision makers to create environments that minimise harm, and support our young people to make good and informed decisions.

Earlier this year, some advocates suggested that they would consider risking arrest and provide drug testing at a Canberra music festival this season. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we could see our politicians sit down with the experts and create a framework to enable them do this legally? We don’t have much time, and there are young lives that are in the balance. If we can lead the country in regulating Uber, surely we can show leadership in this area and make this happen.

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