Tough jail terms ‘won’t stop festival drug deaths’

Defqon.1 2013 music festival (Photo: Shereen Lord)

Plans by the NSW Government to jail dealers for up to 25 years if they supply illegal drugs which kill people have been condemned by drug treatment support services and music festival-goers as ineffective and absurd.

The announcement last week by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian followed the establishment of an expert panel on improving safety at festivals in the wake of two deaths at Sydney’s Defqon.1 in September.

The panel, which also recommended on-the-spot fines of $500 for festival-goers caught with drugs, was not asked to consider the merits of testing pills to check whether they contain dangerous ingredients.

One festival-goer, Shereen Lord, said: “Most dealers don’t even know what’s in the pills they sell, because they get them from bigger dealers higher up the chain– so how can it be their fault?”

She added that if pill testing was ever introduced, people would be afraid to get their drugs tested, “because they’ll be scared about putting … [their dealers] in jail”.

The Take Control Campaign, which lobbies for drug use to be treated as a health problem, also criticised the plan for harsher penalties. Its spokesman, Kieran Palmer, told news.com.au:

“Our drug laws are already hurting people and this is just more of the same. This is just continuing the same strategy that hasn’t worked for 50 years. Why would it start working now?”

Opinions on pill testing at festivals, meanwhile, are divided. Nasreen Hanifi, clinical director of the Hayat House drug and alcohol rehabilitation service, said: “People will do drugs regardless of whether they are purified or not.

“It’s unfortunate, but the nature of music festivals is such that people take pills. So it’s irrelevant whether there are these checks or not, because people will use them regardless.”

Some festival-goers said pill testing could reduce fatality rates. Sharunam Reddy, 21, believes people will always take drugs at festivals, since “nothing can physically stop the flow of drugs into events”.

“Introducing these tests would minimise any drug-related incidents and therefore make festivals like Defqon safer.”

However, Ms Lord, 24, who has attended every Defqon.1 festival since she was 18, thinks pill testing would just encourage more young people to take drugs, since they would regard it as a safe practice.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann called the state government’s ruling out of pill testing “disgraceful”.

“All this ongoing war on drugs has given us is more dead bodies,” she said in a statement.

One police officer said pill testing would not reduce the number of deaths at music festivals, since “drug dealers are going to always jump [adulterate] their gear to make more money”. – @simranpopal