Another Person Has Died At A Music Festival While Politicians Argue The Merits Of Pill Testing

The music festival death toll this season now stands at five, but the "music festival death toll" should not be a thing at all.

A teenager has died after taking an unknown substance at FOMO Festival in Sydney, bringing the number of deaths at music events since September to six.

The ABC reports that the 19-year-old woman presented at the medical tent at the festival, which was headlined by Nicki Minaj, and was taken by ambulance to Westmead Hospital, where she later died.

The death follows that of two young people at Defqon.1 in Sydney in September, one death and two critical hospitalisations of Lost Paradise revellers in December, and a death following Sydney rave Knockout Games Of Destiny.

(The death of a young man attending Beyond The Valley was initially reported as drug-related, but is now thought to be from a snake bite.)

That’s five young people dead now, all at events in a state where the government refuses absolutely point blank to consider an evidence-based harm minimisation measure supported by health experts, including the Australian Medical Association, and a majority of Australians.

We shouldn’t be counting the summer festival death toll like car crashes or natural disasters.

Pill testing can’t guarantee that nobody will ever die or OD again – knowing what you’re taking isn’t the same as knowing how your body will react to it, and there’s still plenty that can go wrong.

Thanks to years of testing data in the UK and the single legal testing trial done in the ACT in 2018, we know that it works. 

When their drugs are proven to be not what they thought they were buying – not “safe” or “unsafe”, just “not MDMA” – it can not only discourage people from taking the dodgy stuff they’ve got, but think twice about how much they’ll take in future, or whether they’ll take it again at all.

Testing puts young people in front of medical professionals they know they can trust, before they take drugs, before something goes wrong. 94% of punters say they’d use the service if it were available; but for all five of the young people who have died in the past five months, it was not.

With NSW Labor saying they’re putting pill testing back on the table this election, and a rally taking place in Sydney next week in support of the life-saving measure, we can only hope this is the last festival season where young people are paying for one dumb decision with their lives.

NSW Labor Signals Pill Testing As A Major Election Issue, Promising To Listen To Drug Experts

We might... actually get some progress on this?

The final weekend of 2018 saw the death of a 22-year-old at Lost Paradise festival in NSW Glenworth Valley and a potentially related, very scary warning from Falls Festival organisers and medical staff regarding a dangerous orange-coloured pill in circulation.

NSW Labor leader Michael Daley, who took over from Luke Foley in November, fronted media on Monday morning and said that a Labor state government would convene a drug summit if elected in 2019, and strongly disagreed with Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s flat refusal to consider sanctioning pill testing, and the current official policy that if you die from an untested pill it’s your own silly fault.

“I don’t just want to hear from police,” Daley told media this morning. “I want to hear from parents and children, from the clinicians, the ambos, the people who keep these children safe and we will look at all options.”

“If you’re going to hold a drug summit, and you’re going to say that you’ll listen to the experts, you can’t shut one door to them. So pill testing should not be off the table.”

“The Premier wants it off the table. That’s not the way to go.”

That’s right: that’s a politician from a major (non-Greens) party saying something sensible and evidence-based about recreational drug policy. WILD.

Experts estimate that an average of three people a year, most under 30, die from drug-related causes or overdoses at Australian music festivals each year, according to a Fairfax report from September after two people died at the Defqon.1 festival.

But there’s no authoritative database that breaks out those deaths from the other drug-related deaths in Australia each year. This means that they’re lumped in with the deaths of, for example, chronic heroin or ice users, which require very different preventative approaches to a 19-year-old who takes one untested pill at a festival.

The last time a NSW government convened a drug summit was in 1999, and the experts consulted there recommended pill testing as a preventative measure. If that had been implemented and normalised, that’s a rough estimate of nearly 60 lives that could potentially have been saved in the past two decades.

The report from the 1999 summit includes this paragraph:

“To each of the 172 resolutions the government is applying this important test: Are we confident that this will improve the current situation? The reason for applying that test is that we certainly will not risk making matters worse.”

The only way legalising or sanctioning pill testing at music events could make matters worse is if you believe it will increase drug use – if you think two people taking a tested pill and neither one of them dying is “worse” than one person taking one and being seriously harmed.

And the evidence is clear: testing saves lives, and it doesn’t make more people think taking drugs is safe.

And with NSW Labor actually in with a chance to govern after the March election, 2019 really could be the year the government starts listening.

Everyone At Every Falls Festival Received A Safety Alert About A Dangerous Orange Pill

Stay safe, everyone.

Organisers of the Falls Festivals, which are currently on in Tasmania and Victoria and kick off this week in NSW and WA, sent an emergency alert text to ticketholders for each event warning them of an “extremely dangerous orange pill” that’s in circulation around the country.

A longer message posted on the festival’s Facebook and Twitter accounts spread the message further, including to people who might be considering taking something on New Year’s Eve at other events or parties.

Although we’ve had a safe Falls Festival to date, our medical teams have alerted us to a dangerous orange pill that is currently in circulation across Australia. Regardless of pill variation, we want to remind everyone of the potentially fatal risks that come with illicit substances. You do not know what is in them, how your body will react, there is no safe level of consumption.

“One pill can kill.”

The festival confirmed to an ABC Hobart journalist that there were no specific incidents at any of the festivals – the medical teams were aware that the bad pills are currently going around, and organisers felt it warranted a precaution.

The alert comes the same day as the news that a 22-year-old man died after taking an unknown substance at Lost Paradise festival in NSW’s Glenworth Valley, and two more people were hospitalised.

There has been no suggestion that the orange pill was responsible for either the death or the hospitalisations.

However, it’s worth noting that party drugs are an unregulated black market product, meaning you never know what you’re getting.


While the safest thing is not to take anything, embracing on-site pill testing at festivals can help mitigate the risk and puts people planning to take substances in front of trained medical professionals before they take anything – and it might have saved lives in the ACT this year already.

But while pill testing is still being resisted by governments around the country despite the evidence supporting it – meaning organisers can’t have it at their events even if they want to – an alert like this is a valuable step in harm minimisation.

It acknowledges that drugs are a normal part of a festival experience for plenty of young people, and folks are going to end up taking whatever they buy – unless they have further information that offers a compelling reason not to, beyond the tired “drugs are bad” rhetoric.

Here’s hoping everyone has a fun and safe New Year’s, and that 2019 is the year that governments take their fingers out of their ears and embrace drug policies that work in the real world.

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