While the ACT government, the University of Canberra, police, and health officials have all backed pill testing as a viable option to reduce overdoses, its implementation at next month's Groovin the Moo music festival waits largely on the company behind the event – Cattleyard Promotions. And everyone is seriously confused.
Pill testing is seen by advocates as one way to stop overdoses, and deaths from overdoses, at Australian music festivals. Two years ago a 15-year-old girl was taken to hospital after a suspected overdose at Groovin the Moo in Maitland.
A spokesperson for Groovin the Moo said Cattleyard Promotions was currently participating in "consultation with all stakeholders" before making a decision on pill testing. Matt Noffs from festival stakeholder Harm Reduction Australia told BuzzFeed News he "hadn't heard anything".
Pill testing was controversially blocked at last year's Spilt Milk festival in Canberra, with pill testing advocates, ACT politicians, and festival organisers debating over who was to blame.
Support for testing is gaining momentum. Former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer wrote to the promoters last week and encouraged them to support the trial. Palmer told BuzzFeed News he received a response from Cattleyard Promotions that said the group was still considering its options.
"It's always difficult to be first on these issues, and there's no guarantee on results," said Palmer. "The evidence is pretty clear and I would continue to encourage them [to support the trial]. It's not about condoning or promoting drug use, it's about finding ways to maximise safety."
Palmer, who was instrumental in the former Howard government's crackdown on drugs, said he had come around to the idea of pill testing after reading about its implementation in the UK and Europe.
"It can reduce risk," he said, "You know, people can even change their minds as to whether they should take the drugs once they see what is in them.
"I think the benefits would speak for themselves, you can only go with what has happened in other countries."
Palmer said what Australia was doing now was "clearly failing".
"Anything we can do to minimise these overdoses, we of course should do," he said.
Brad Esposito is a news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Brad Esposito at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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