Entertainment Calls for pill testing at Bass in the Grass as thousands head to Darwin

02:32  07 march  2021
02:32  07 march  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Revellers dressed to impress at Splendour in the Grass on Saturday as more than 35,000 people arrived for the second day of the wildly popular festival in Byron Bay. Earlier in the day New South Wales coroner Harriet Grahame was in attendance to oversee a major pill testing demonstration on Saturday. A large police presence continued on Saturday with officers patrolling the grounds with sniffer dogs. Security has been ramped up at festivals around the country following a spate of drugs-related deaths.

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The Northern Territory Chief Minister says he is open to the idea of pill testing, and many young Territorians support it, but the idea remains politically controversial.

Pill testing, or drug checking, is the practice where people can volunteer a tiny amount of their drugs to be tested by a forensic chemist, .

It's been the subject of passionate debate in recent years after the deaths of several young people after taking unknown substances at music festivals across the country.

Two Australian pill testing trials have been run at the Groovin' the Moo festival in the ACT, which were hailed as a success.

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NT could be next Australian jurisdiction to allow pill testing

This year's Bass in the Grass Music festival is an all-ages event in Darwin scheduled for May 15, boasting a line-up including Violent Soho, Thelma Plum, and Missy Higgins.

Last week, NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he was open to the idea of a pill testing trial but said for it to work, it would have to be based on the evidence.

"We will look at what's happening down south and make an informed decision off the back of that," he said.

University student Aiya Goodrich Carttling, 21, said running a pill testing trial would show the government cares about young people.

Ms Goodrich Carttling, who ran as a candidate for the Greens in the 2020 NT election, said she knows lots of people who are flying up to attend this year's Bass in the Grass Festival.

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There are fresh calls for pill testing , or drug checking, at festivals in Australia after the deaths of five festival-goers in recent months. Many claims have been made, both for and against the measure. But which ones are true? We investigate what a.. Young people have lost their lives taking dodgy pills at music festivals. Could pill testing have saved them? But how likely is pill testing at festivals to ever get up and what does the science actually say about the accuracy of those tests ?

"If they're not used to the hot temperatures that we have up here in this environment, I think pill testing would be a really good idea, it will help them get more education around what they are doing," she said.

"The reality is people have always taken drugs and always will.

"Providing them with opportunities to make safer decisions is really important."

Changing festival demographic a cause for concern

More interstate attendees mean there might be more drugs and possibly, more harm, at this year's Bass in the Grass, according to the Association of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies in the Territory (AADANT).

Executive officer Peter Burnheim said 14,000 people are expected at this year's festival, up from 10,000 in previous years.

A couple of factors are combining to create what Mr Burnheim said could be "a little bit of a Vegas-style party weekend for a lot of people."

Mr Burnheim said the festival normally has a largely local crowd, but this year more than half the tickets sold have gone to punters outside Darwin.

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"We're getting patrons coming in who are used to a different party scene, they might have access to different substances, and they might intend to bring those up for the festival," he said.

He said there was also an element of people who had not had a chance to party during the pandemic, engaging in risky behaviours.

"We don't want anyone getting hurt and we certainly don't want any Territorians getting caught up in substances that have come from somewhere else and causing them trouble."

Organisation offers to run trial

The Pill Testing Australia organisation, which worked with the ACT government during its drug checking trials, has offered to fly expert staff and equipment to facilitate a trial in Darwin for free.

Spokesperson Gino Vumbaca said the drug testing station would be located inside the festival, as part of the health and medical precinct.

"We're inside the festival, which is an important point, because people have already purchased their drugs, gone through any security and are in the festival, and are highly likely to take what they brought."

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He said punters will be able to speak with a doctor and harm reduction professionals while their drugs are assessed by an analytical chemist.

"They'll talk to you about what it is you think you bought, do you have any other medication you've been taking, have you been drinking," he said.

"Have you thought about the interactions of what you may take?

"They'll talk about what the potential harms are of what you are about to take, what to do if you don't want to take it, or if you are going to take it, what to do if there are any problems," he said.

He said the process usually takes around 15 minutes.

Pill testing queried by police, NT opposition

Bass in the Grass is run by an NT government-owned corporation, NT Major Events, who would not comment on the proposal and said it would be up to the government to make a decision.

But the feasibility of pulling off a trial with the festival just 10 weeks away has been questioned by NT Police.

"Under current legislation it would not be possible [for police] to facilitate pill testing," a spokesperson said.

When asked whether people involved could potentially be prosecuted for criminal activity, a spokesperson for NT police said: "Technically they could be in possession of or supplying an illicit substance."

Meanwhile the NT opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro said she would oppose any legislative changes to allow pill testing in the Territory.

"To keep people safe, they need to not take drugs," she said.

"The Gunner government needs to send a strong message that drugs are illegal.

"[That's] not by turning a blind eye and allowing pill testing at a music festival."

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