Defqon Deaths: Calls For Pill Testing Instead Of Shut Down

Pill testing advocates, health professionals call for pill testing.

Two deaths at Sydney's Defqon.1 festival on Saturday have reignited calls for the introduction of pill testing, with advocates and health professionals condemning the NSW Government for a response which is "pushing drug use into the shadows."

A 23-year-old man and 21-year-old woman died in hospital from suspected drug overdoses after collapsing at the festival in Penrith. Another three people were left critically ill.

Defqon.1 is held at the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Sydney's west.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian subsequently vowed to ban the festival, convinced the move will protect young Australians from another "absolutely tragic" incident.

"I never want to see this event held in Sydney or NSW ever again," the Premier said. "We will do everything we can to shut this down I don’t want to see this event happen again."

Member for Penrith Stuart Ayres later tweeted the festival would not be returning to the Sydney International Regatta Centre, where it has been held since its debut in Australia ten years ago.

READ MORE:  Premier To Shut Down Defqon Festival After Two Die, 13 Hospitalised

With two young people dead and others in hospital critically ill, debate quickly  turned to the safety measures currently in place which experts argue simply aren't working.

In response to the suggestion of pill-testing as a potential solution Berejiklian delivered a resounding no to the possibility, stating "there is no such thing as a safe drug" five times in just over three minutes.

"Anyone who advocates pill testing is giving the green light to drugs," she said.

Crystal, an archaeologist from Sydney, has attended Defqon.1 for the past six years, acting as an ambassador of the event for the past four. The 23-year-old said she keeps going back for the atmosphere and the people but admits drugs are never far from view.

"You do see people getting taken off in ambulances," she told ten daily.

"They’re everywhere, almost every second person is on drugs, but I've never felt pressured and none of my friends have ever felt pressured to take anything. You just do it if you want to."

Billed as the "world's largest harder styles" dance festival, Defqon.1 has a zero tolerance policy on drugs, with police sniffer dogs and strip searches employed each year -- a system Crystal says can actually cause harm.

“I think the dogs are dangerous, because I know people that have seen them and they freak out and just take everything that they have, and they’ll sometimes take like 30 caps," she said.

“I think they need to put in pill testing...If there was no penalty for going there, if you weren’t going to get in trouble for having pills, I think people would do it. I would definitely do it."

"Bring Drug Use Out Of The Shadows"

Pill testing has successfully been taking place in countries across Europe for more than a decade.

It is a way of establishing a sophisticated dialogue between young drug consumers-- who will always exist-- and health professionals, emergency physician and senior clinical lecturer at the Australian National University David Caldicott told ten daily.

"The only message that anyone is getting from official sources generally speaking is ‘don’t use drugs,'" he said.

"We need to be able to have a dialogue with young consumers from a position of trust where they can turn to us and say, ‘hang on a second, those guys over there who work in the field and who are testing drugs, they know what they’re talking about.'"

Will Tregoning, founder and director of drug harm reduction organisation Unharm told ten daily pill testing is part of a bigger picture solution, necessary to "bring drugs out of the shadows" instead of pushing users to less regulated spaces with fewer safety services.

Caldicott said by continuing to enforce zero tolerance policies despite "zero evidence" to support claims harm reduction systems would encourage people to do more drugs or give them  a "green light,"  politicians have to accept they "have a little bit of blood on their hands".

"As a doctor, it is inconceivable to me that the message we want to give young people in Australia from people in leadership positions is that it’s okay for a few young people to die every year as a lesson to other young people.”

Saturday's tragedy brings the number of Australians who have died at a Defqon event to four.

In 2015, 26-year-old Nigel Pauljevic died after he was found unconscious in a tent while in 2013, 23-year-old James Munro died from a suspected ecstasy overdose.