The death of another young man after taking a particularly bad batch of ecstasy pills at the Stereosonic Festival in Adelaide late last year has renewed calls for pill testing at music festivals and raves in Australia. Musicians, medical practitioners, parents of victims and people with varied backgrounds are now actively campaigning to get the government to pilot pill testing in Australia.
Their biggest argument in support of pill testing is that it helps reduce overdoses and deaths, just like it did in a number of European countries where the measure is now being fully implemented. Will it work the same way in Australia too?
Ecstasy use common in Australia
There is no doubt that the use of MDMA or ecstasy is quite common in Australia. In fact, it’s so rife that the 2014 UN World Drug Report gave the country the dubious distinction of being the world’s top user of ecstasy. This, despite costly campaigns of the government to dissuade young people from using the drug, especially at music festivals and raves.
For so long now, the Australian government policy towards drug use has been of zero tolerance. Anyone caught possessing illicit drugs of any kind is meted heavy penalties. The consequences of possession have also been long lasting. For one thing, getting a job becomes harder if you have an arrest record for drugs.
If the sheer number of ecstasy users—and drug users in general—in Australia is any indication, it would seem that the government’s iron-fisted drug policy is doing little to stop the youth from experimenting with drugs. Even with zero-tolerance, ecstasy is still being sold and bought quite openly at music festivals. Things are even bound to get trickier as online drug trading sites continue to pop up all over the Internet. There is no shortage of choices for ecstasy-using young people these days.
Pill Testing – Why People are Pushing For It
The fact that ecstasy is illegal means its manufacture is not regulated. Strictly speaking, ecstasy pills should contain MDMA, a psychoactive drug known for its euphoric effects. Drug manufacturers, however, are a greedy lot. To bulk up the volume and weight of drugs they sell, they cut them with various substances—some of them deadly—all to boost profits.
Ecstasy pills these days are often cut or laced with anything from ketamine, ephedrine or synthetic cathinones. Then there’s Dr. Death, which is similar to MDMA but far more toxic at lower doses. Kids at music festivals are snapping up these drugs that are being passed for ecstasy, and many are dying because of it.
Pill testing advocates are saying that all those deaths can be minimised, and even stopped.
In European countries like the Netherlands, ecstasy use is also prevalent. This is hardly a surprise, since the country is basically the home of the rave culture that has spawned ecstasy use in the first place. Realising that strict drug prevention measures are not doing much to prevent deaths at music festivals and raves, the government has shifted its focus towards harm reduction instead.
In line with its harm reduction approach, on-site pill testing services have become a fixture at rave parties there. As their name suggests, on-site pill testing services give users a chance to test if the ecstasy pills on them do not contain dangerous substances. Within half an hour, they get results, allowing them to steer clear of the deadly ones they might have bought on-site. Then they’ll get to enjoy the rave party, and make it home safe and sound afterwards.
Will Australia budge on its zero-tolerance drug policy?
For some time now, the government has been at the receiving end of pleas to relax its drug laws and follow the example set by Portugal.
Portugal has decriminalised drugs nearly 15 years ago. Coupled with the implementation of treatment and harm reduction policies, Portugal has seen a significant improvement in its drug situation over the years.
However, it seems unlikely that Australia will follow in the footsteps of Portugal and The Netherlands anytime soon. The government remains adamant on its war against drugs, and have continued to step up its efforts against drugs in general. It even has attracted a lot of attention for its “Stoner Sloth” campaign, which is basically an attack on users of marijuana, a drug that has already been decriminalised in many parts of the United States.
For now, the safest option for people who attend music festivals and rave parties in Australia is to not try any of those drugs presented as ecstasy at all. It is a much smarter decision than taking those pills blindly.