Rainbow Serpent Music and Arts Festival organisers are calling for a fresh approach to recreational drugs laws after a horror weekend in Melbourne resulted in three deaths.
Three people died amid at least 20 suspected ecstasy overdoses which were recorded along the Chapel Street nightclub precinct in Melbourne on the weekend.
The deaths come just 10 days out from Rainbow Serpent’s 20th anniversary festival, which kicks off at Lexton on January 27.
Festival organiser Tim Harvey said the fatalities highlighted drug use was a nationwide problem, not solely with music festivals.
CHECK OUT LAST YEAR’S RAINBOW SERPENT EVENT AS YOU SAW IT THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA
He said organisers were doing everything in their power to provide a safe space for festival-goers, but were “waiting with bated breath” for a legislative change to allow drug testing.
“(The current approach) just isn’t realistic, and you’ve got to approach this issue with reality in mind,” Mr Harvey said.
“I totally understand the ideal situation is to say don’t take anything, but if you’re still peddling that line these days you’re not living in reality.”
The festival is again partnering with the government funded body DanceWize to attempt to minimise the harm of illicit drugs use at the festival.
Outspoken Canberra emergency medicine specialist Doctor David Caldicott will also be on site at the four-day event. Doctor Caldicott, along with fellow harm minimisation advocate Doctor Alex Wodak, gained national attention in 2016 by promising to conduct pill testing at music festivals in New South Wales despite prohibitive legislation.
“We’ve got the best medical set up and response team in Australia...and we’re trying to give people harm minimisation strategies for looking after themselves,” Mr Harvey said. “This is not about ideology, this is about saving human lives.”
The festival will also be attended by Adriana Buccianti, who’s son Daniel died at the event in 2012 after a combined drug overdose.
Despite initially calling for the festival to be shut down, Ms Buccianti has since become an advocate for legislative changes which would allow drugs to be tested at festivals.
She said while establishing a drug testing regime would not condone the use of illicit substances, it would save lives.
“We have to make it very clear that no drug is a good drug,” Ms Buccianti said. “But the discussion we keep having about pill testing facilities is one that should have been dealt with because we know it works overseas.
“We know people are going to take substances, and at the end of the day nobody wants to come out of a festival or venue from a body bag.”
The cause has the support of the Australian Greens and the Australian Sex Party, however both major parties remain opposed to pill testing. Speaking in March 2016, Premier Daniel Andrews said testing illicit substances went “a long way” towards normalising drug use.
The renewed calls come after Rainbow Serpent drew intense criticism from police following its 2016 incarnation, where police arrested four people on drug trafficking offences. Forty people were caught driving under the influence of drugs when leaving the festival, while police also responded to four sexual assaults.
Inspector Bruce Thomas said police would maintain a 24-hour presence at the festival, and anyone caught in possession or dealing drugs would face the same consequences as in the community.
“Drug taking is always of concern but some of our emphasis has shifted to the very real problem of drug impaired driving from the festival,” Inspector Thomas said. “With approximately 7,000 vehicles on site, this area is of real concern to Victoria Police.”
Inspector Thomas said anyone caught handling substances as part of a pill testing service could be liable to prosecution under the Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substance Act 1981.
“Issues such as pill testing are likely to feature as part of The Victorian Government Inquiry into Illicit and Synthetic Drugs and Prescription Medication. This will be an important forum that will consolidate the evidence on how best to tackle the harms arising from illicit drug use and distribution. We look forward to the inquiry.”