After A Deadly Summer Of Music Festivals, There's Only One Thing To Do
The summer of 2018-19 has been one of our most lethal.
Too many young people have been lost, unnecessarily punished for a decision that should not mean life or death.
On average, three people die at music festivals every year in Australia. In the four months between September last year and January, there were five deaths in NSW alone. If the stats are to be believed, this is well above average.
And that’s not to mention the hospitalisations. Our last public holiday weekend -- Australia Day -- saw more than 20 hospitalisations in Sydney and Melbourne.
Overall in NSW, MDMA-related hospital admissions are at a four-year high: 115 in the first week of the new year.
These numbers reflect a growing trend, so we can only expect that the coming summer will be even worse.
Acknowledging that we need to do more is not enough. Increasing police interventions and categorising festivals as ‘high risk’ is not enough. The only thing we can do is use every means necessary to prepare. Pill testing can and should be part of this. It is only one measure, but it has a quarter of a century of evidence behind it; so much so that those who oppose it can only be on the wrong side of history.
Why does this opposition continue? Is it out of a dislike for Europe, where pill testing is a well-known success? Is it a mistrust for the science? Or, more likely, is it ideology and moralism that is holding us back?
The ‘why’ is not what’s important. What is important is what we can do, now. We can encourage the government to open its mind, listen to evidence and act.
This is why we need a Drug Summit. It provides a platform not only for experts and harm reduction advocates, but also for community members -- parents and constituents -- who are sick of the lack of concrete, effective solutions, sick of the deaths.
Remember, the last summit resulted in the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross, a facility that has saved thousands of lives. A Drug Summit is not a talk-fest, it’s an action-fest.
The government should rightly be acknowledged for taking steps towards decriminalising drugs at festivals, through its trial of on-the-spot fines. Let’s be clear, though, this does not do anything to diminish deaths -- neither does the heavy police presence that we have seen at festivals in recent weeks.
For too long the evidence has been ignored in favour of the status quo. It is time for it to be given a proper platform. A Drug Summit can do this. Neither side can say they are doing enough to prevent these senseless deaths until they commit to it.