HARM minimisation experts have attacked the hard-line stance taken by police and state governments in regards to drug legislation, particularly in the wake of recent deaths at music festivals.
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Following the arrest of four people for drug-trafficking offences at this year’s Rainbow Serpent music festival in Lexton, Victoria Police questioned whether the festival should continue to be held in the future.
Similar responses were seen in New South Wales earlier this year after the NSW state government issued a warning to festivals who did not do enough to address the prevalence of illicit substances at their events.
Dr Caldicott from the emergency department of the Calvary Hospital in Canberra was invited to the 2016 Rainbow Serpent festival to observe the medical practices at the event. He said the hard-line approach by police would do little to minimise overall drug use in society, and would not assist medical outcomes.
“From my perspective, the real issue is the harm not the legality,” Dr Caldicott said. “Laws around drugs are about health; the laws are not there to punish people just because they’re naughty.”
From a statistical perspective, it is clear recreational drug use across the country is rife. A 2014 UN report revealed Australia to be the largest consumer of ecstasy in the world, and the seventh-highest consumer of cannabis.
A fellow champion of the harm minimisation approach is Adriana Buccianti, whose son died of a drug overdose at Rainbow in 2012. Like Dr Caldicott, Ms Buccianti was on site at the festival this year.
Ms Buccianti criticised the notion of closing music festivals due to drug use, saying they were being used as a scapegoat to ignore a wider societal issue. “The year after my son died there were calls for exactly the same thing, and I said back then that it was a futile exercise.”
Around 750 people were treated at medical facilities on the site over the festival, with two being transported for drug overdoses. A further 40 drivers were caught with drugs in their system.
Ms Buccianti recently created an online petition pleading with state governments to implement pill testing at music festivals, which would allow drug users to know precisely what they were taking. While the practice is widely used in European countries such as The Netherlands, it has been dismissed in Australia.
“If people understand they shouldn’t be taking these things because it might harm or kill them, then you can start educating them.”
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