Protesters demand pill testing and end to strip searches
The Premier and her fellow cabinet members will have "blood on their hands" if someone dies at a music festival this summer, warned protesters at a rally in Sydney.Or so says Tyson Koh, Keep Sydney Open organiser and candidate in last year's state election, speaking at a rally to protest NSW drug laws on Saturday.
More than 20 heads of department at Sydney’s St Vincent's Hospital have urged the Premier to scrap strip-searching and adopt a pill-testing trial amid an anecdotal rise in the number of panic ingestions at music festivals.
The unprecedented appeal from senior staff at the frontline hospital for drug and alcohol emergency admissions follows a recent incident in which a teenage girl who went to police for help after hiding two pills vaginally was subjected to a strip search and three internal medical examinations, which uncovered no drugs but shocked medical staff at the inner-city hospital.
Man dies from suspected drug overdose at Strawberry Fields music festival in Riverina region
The 24-year-old man was taken to the medical tent and staff were told he had taken multiple substances including GHB, MDMA and cocaine. The man suffered a cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead at 2:02am.Officers from the Murray River Police District are investigating.A lengthy statement from the festival organisers said the team worked year round to ensure the 9,500 festivalgoers were hosted in the safest possible environment. "We are completely devastated by this news," the statement said."We would like to send our sincere condolences to his family and friends during this distressing and terribly sad time.
“All this was hours of a process that was extremely distressing for the 18-year-old girl,” deputy director of the emergency department Dr Gonzalo Aguirrebarrena said. “I think she cried for six hours non-stop.
“I remember the entire [emergency] department was shocked.”
In the letter to Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Dr Jennifer Stevens wrote that she and her fellow senior clinicians believed that a public health approach should be prioritised over criminal enforcement.
'Sweetest person I know': Tributes for man, 24, who died of suspected overdose
Tributes are pouring onto social media for Victorian man Glenn Mcrae who died on the weekend. Medical staff were told he had taken a cocaine, GHB and MDMA.Glenn Mcrae, from Shepparton, was attending the Strawberry Fields four-day music festival in Tocumwal when he was rushed to the event's medical tent at 12.45am on Sunday.
“We find it abhorrent that strip searches are used to investigate young people – including children – for personal possession,” she wrote.
“Strip searches, as currently conducted, demean both the individual and the police conducting the search.”
The head of St Vincent’s acute pain service said she was prompted to write the letter after a coroner’s report recommending pill testing, reduced sniffer dog use and an overhaul of strip-searchers was "largely ignored" by Ms Berejiklian and her government.
“These reports are well informed by both personal lived experience and by the evidence, and we’d like her to look at them again,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the Premier said the government will consider the coroner’s recommendations and that NSW Health has developed harm reduction guidelines for music festivals in consultation with experts.
“The Premier has made her position very clear on pill testing – there is no such thing as a safe illegal drug and we cannot provide a false sense of security that these illegal drugs are safe,” she said.
No pill-testing trial for Queensland music festival season
An emergency doctor has warned more Queensland festival revellers could fall victim to deadly drugs masked as party pills. Health Minister Steven Miles promised to look "closely at the work currently under way in Canberra in relation to the use of pill testing as a harm-reduction strategy".Results of the Canberra trials were expected to be shared at a meeting of Australia's health ministers in late October but pill testing was pushed off the agenda as they discussed setting minimum benefits for single-room accommodation at public hospitals.
“We have already taken considerable steps to improve safety at music festivals and some of the recommendations for measures such as peer-based harm reduction services are already occurring.”
The hospital's stance comes just weeks after Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame published her findings into the MDMA-related deaths of six young festival-goers, prompting Ms Berejiklian to double down on her opposition to pill testing and Police Commissioner Mick Fuller to back the use of strip-searching at festivals.
The letter, sent to the Premier on Tuesday, also comes part way through an investigation into police allegedly breaching their strip-search powers, with a fresh hearing into a string of searches at an 18-years-and-under Sydney music festival in February this year set to begin on Monday.
Dr Stevens said all her colleagues had front-line experience with drug issues, but they also had skin in the game thanks to the teenagers and children in their lives.
“We felt that if the evidence about how to keep these kids safe was out there, that we should be looking to follow that evidence where it exists and also to conduct more trials to confirm that evidence,” she said.
As many as 13 per cent of all emergency department admissions at St Vincent's were for drug- and alcohol-related problems, Dr Aguirrebarrena said.
While the hospital has always had a close working relationship with the police, Dr Aguirrebarrena said that, in the past 18 months, he’s noticed an increase in emergency presentations of patients who have binged on drugs or alcohol before going into venues where they have seen a strong police and sniffer dog presence.
“We’ve had patients come in with severe intoxications from [the use of multiple drugs], when they just take them all before going in,” Dr Aguirrebarrena said.
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