It’s a horrific start to summer festival season already: two people are dead and at least three more are critically ill after collapsing at the Defqon.1 dance event in Sydney yesterday.
A 23-year-old and a 21-year-old both died in Nepean Hospital, and while no official cause of death has been reported, the media and political conversation is all about drugs.
Renewed calls for officially sanctioned drug checking trials to begin in NSW were met with the usual brick wall.
“Anyone who advocates pill-testing is giving the green light to drugs. There is no such thing as a safe drug and unfortunately when young people think there is, it has tragic consequences,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian reportedly said, later adding that she would seek to ensure the event would no longer be allowed in NSW.
— SBS News (@SBSNews) September 16, 2018
The word “safe” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there. Taking any kind of illicit, psychoactive or intoxicating substance is a risk. People who do it know there’s a risk, but it’s a calculated one. It’s not that drug users believe it’s definitely safe – they believe it’s probably safe. They believe that they’ll be taking the drug they paid for.
The relatively minor risk of harm isn’t enough to turn a significant number of people off the idea of an afternoon or night of feeling euphoric, energised and connected.
When politicians and others advocating against harm minimisation strategies say something like “there’s no such thing as a safe drug” they’re conflating the risk of the substance you’re planning on ingesting and the substances you don’t know you’re ingesting.
Pure MDMA, for example, is “one of the least dangerous drugs known” according to drug policy and harm minimisation experts Alex Wodak and Gideon Warhaft.
But molly is a black-market product, adulteration is very common, and the odds of getting pure MDMA aren’t in the buyer’s favour. A death might result from an overdose – as strength and dosage can’t be confirmed or regulated either – but it also might result from contaminants.
When the ACT pill testing trial finally managed to go ahead at Groovin’ The Moo’s Canberra leg this year, there were two samples found that had lethal substances in them.
That’s at least two potential deaths or serious injuries averted.
If you don’t like the idea of young people taking drugs you should LOVE pill testing: the evidence shows that a fair proportion of people who get their drugs tested decide not to take them after finding what’s in them. If only the attendees of Defqon had pill testing available… https://t.co/hDEhLNA6Qd
— Lisa Pryor (@pryorlisa) September 16, 2018
At the UK’s Secret Garden Party festival in 2016, a drug checking facility saw a quarter of users ditch their drugs after finding they weren’t what they’d paid for.
Defqon.1, the event, is safe. Drugs should be as safe as possible – people are always going to take them, but they are currently being denied accurate and relevant information about what they’re taking.
not that I care for Defqon, but Gladys Berejiklian is an idiot, pill testing saves lives, deaths could happen at any festival, vowing to see the end of Defqon just means that more unsafe alternatives will pop up
— cait 🦈 (@caitsux) September 16, 2018
Prohibition and over-policing is not safe. Young people are going out and putting the party-drug equivalents of homemade bathtub gin in their bodies because the only message coming from the government is the laughably unrealistic insistence on abstinence.
The police hyper surveillance of dance party culture in NSW is flawed. Sniffer dogs can’t detect GHB. Used in conjunction with alcohol the risk of overdose multiplies. RAVES DON’T KILL. Harm reduction policy inaction does. https://t.co/fMrfLYVOzG
— stereogamous (@stereogamous) September 16, 2018
Pill testing isn’t encouraging people to take drugs any more than, say, giving out free condoms in a high school health class is encouraging teenagers to have sex.
It’s an acknowledgement of the reality that they’re going to do it anyway, and a signal that people’s actual lives and safety are valued over the pursuit of a hypothetical utopia where nothing bad ever happens. It’s not a green light – it’s a seatbelt, a crash test, a sign that says CAUTION on a dicey stretch of highway.
The time for empty finger-wagging – and demonising promoters and clubs, who are actively being denied opportunities to keep their patrons safe – is over.