The pill testing trial at the Groovin the Moo festival at EPIC on Sunday (28 April) has been hailed as “overwhelmingly successful” after seven people surrendered their illicit drugs after learning that they contained potentially lethal substances.
Over 230 people took part in Sunday’s trial, with over 171 drugs tested, more than double of the 85 pills tested at last year’s event.
Of the illicit substances tested, MDMA was the prominent substance found along with lesser extents of cocaine, ketamine and methamphetamines.
The service said the test also discovered seven samples containing n-ethylpentylone, a stimulant similar to MDMA, which is potentially lethal and believed to be responsible for several mass-overdoses overseas. All seven of the festivalgoers who were told their drugs contained the dangerous substance surrendered them to the amnesty bins provided by the service.
N-ethylpentylone is a hallucinogenic which slows down blood circulation, which Dr David Caldicott said was significantly more dangerous than MDMA.
“It has subtle similarities to MDMA and as a consequence, people who consume it think they have a weak product and will consume three or four of them,” he said. “That is more than enough to keep you awake for several days, which is not tolerable for young people.”
With over 20,000 “drug-consuming youngsters” at the music festival, there was only one ambulance transport for precautionary purposes for an overdose. Dr Caldicott said the number of people armed with information sharing details about the substances amongst their peer groups was one of the most pleasing aspects of the trial.
“The real secret source of pill testing is not the sort of substances that we discover but more the people we can educate as a consequence of providing this service,” he told Region Media.
“The other thing that is fascinating was when we were beginning to tell people about this n-ethylpentylone, the information was getting out. People were saying that there was quite a lot of it around and they started bringing their friends to the medical tent for evaluation.
“That is how pill testing amplifies the message within a festival environment very, very quickly.
“I am not God. I can’t make people not take drugs but what I can do is change the way they do take drugs. And if we can start with that, we can reduce the number of overdoses that occur.
“We are providing the safest festival environment in Australia right now.”
An ACT Policing spokesperson said over the course of the event officers seized multiple drugs including MDMA, while other drugs were seized by security or police with no owner identified. Two teenagers were apprehended and will be referred to an ACT Drug Diversion Program.
Pill Testing Australia’s Gino Vumbaca said the pilot was “overwhelmingly successful” and lauded the work done by team members Steph Tzanetis, David Caldicott, and Mal McLeod, as well as the medical and chemist teams involved in the trial.
“Today we helped reduce drug-related harm by giving young people access to a medical service they would not have had otherwise,” he said.
“The pilot was again overwhelmingly successful by any measure but particularly by doing everything possible to keep our kids safe.
“The simple truth is that it is time to take practical evidence-based steps to make parties and festivals safer for our kids.
“Huge thanks must go to the Groovin the Moo promoters and the ACT Government for recognising the unmitigated need to provide more information to patrons to reduce harm from drugs.”
Greens spokesperson for Drug Law Reform Shane Rattenbury said the results from the second trial vindicate the necessity of harm-reduction services such as pill testing.
Taking to Twitter, Mr Rattenbury said: “The law and order approach to drug use hasn’t worked. We’ve seen too many young people dying tragically at music festivals. We have to accept that despite all the efforts on enforcement + education, some people still take illicit drugs.”
“Clearly, we cannot encourage people to make safer choices unless we actually engage with them. Pill testing vindicates this approach,” he said.