With Spilt Milk festival less than three weeks away, a recent study suggests as many as three quarters of the festival's 23,000 revellers could indulge in drugs at the Victoria Park event.
The study conducted by the University of Wollongong Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute found 73.4 per cent of surveyed music festival attendees at a recent Australian event reported drug-taking, with almost 60 per cent of the figure citing MDMA/ecstasy as their drug of choice.
The stark report on levels of drug use at music festivals and the upcoming season, including the blockbuster bash in Ballarat, Spilt Milk along with other perennial favourites Meredith and Rainbow Serpent, has again thrown the much-debated topic of pill testing back into the spotlight.
Experts and academics have called for testing across the country's upcoming festivals following strong recommendations from both the Victorian and New South Wales coroners along with a recent endorsement from the Victorian Ambulance Union.
Professor at the National Drug Research Institute Curtin University and director of 360Edge Nicole Lee told The Courier Australia needs to follow positive initiatives in place overseas.
"The evidence is from many decades of pill testing overseas is that these kind of approaches are effective in reducing harms... both fatal and non-fatal overdoses," she said.
"I think we should implement some form of drug testing immediately to help reduce harm during the festival season."
While Dr Lee said 'direct-to-consumer' testing - which she believes to be the ideal and most effective form of pill testing - is currently unavailable in Australia, implementing a 'back of house' type of testing, which pills found or confiscated by police are tested is the next best thing.
This form of testing would involve festival-goers being notified if pills have come back with a dangerous reading following testing.
"There's evidence that if people are more alert and informed about their pills, when they find out there are dangerous substances in them; and it doesn't matter how they find out... those measures get across to people and have an effect."
In a study released by Dr Lee and Jarryd Bartle, it was found that 94 per cent of 851 surveyed festival-goers would use a 'direct-to-consumer' mobile drug check on-site.
These findings were echoed by a man in his 20's, who is travelling to Ballarat in the coming weeks for Spilt Milk Festival.
The anonymous reveller, who says he has been to upwards of 10 festivals over the years, says he intends to take pills while at Spilt Milk and would use 'direct-to-consumer' pill testing facilities if they were available to him.
"If there were pill testing available at Spilt Milk I would 100 per cent use it," he said.
"It takes away the uncertainty of what you're taking and gives you confidence that what you're taking is 'safe'."
The reveller said if he were to discover something dangerous in his pills through pill testing, he would not hesitate to toss them away.
"If I could get pills tested and results came back that they were dangerous it becomes a very easy decision... you just throw them in the bin or flush them down the toilet."
The punter believes it is time for pill testing to come into festivals because the police's zero tolerance approach doesn't work in his opinion.
"The police's zero tolerance approach doesn't make a difference to me or my friends to be honest."
if you're going to take drugs, you're going to take drugs, having the police tell me not to doesn't really do anything.One reveler set for Spilt Milk Festival
Despite the statistics showing harm reduction pill testing has achieved in other countries and recommendations from Victorian and New South Wales coroners, state governments and police say their view on the issue remains unchanged.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller says he is "gravely concerned" about the message pill testing sends to young people about drug consumption, asserting the harm reduction measure does not have the support of the force.
"All illegal substances carry the risk of harming, or ultimately killing, the user," he said.
''I'm gravely concerned about the message that pill testing sends to young people about the consumption of illegal substances.''
These sentiments were shared by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who did not mince words talking to reporters on Tuesday about the issue.
"Even so-called pure versions of these drugs can kill you and we won't be sending a green light for people to use them," he said.
Former State Member for Buninyong Geoff Howard says he doesn't believe pill taking encourages people to use drugs, instead saying it creates an avenue for greater harm reduction for those taking drugs.
Mr Howard, who travelled the globe researching the issue and has attended the past two Rainbow Serpent Festivals, says it's time to at least trial the concept.
"I've seen pill testing work... from what I can judge and I think with the evidence, with the support of both the Victorian and New South Wales coroners that it's time to look at the evidence and look at the trial," he said.
"You can only get more information by taking that next step and doing it, seeing how it goes and getting the feedback.... you can be informed by that and make a decision from there."
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