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Pill Testing Urgency Stressed Ahead Of ‘Unbridled’ Festival Season

29 July 2022 | 1:42 pm | Dan Cribb

“Festivalgoers are going to be more excited about this summer than they have been for any we can remember, so it’s time to get moving.”

(Pic by Mackenzie Sweetnam)

The music festival pill testing debate has sparked up again, with conversations around the controversial service kicking off in Queensland parliament today.

As The Guardian reports, Queensland mental health commissioner Ivan Frkovic stated “there’s certainly organisational capacity to be able to do that at various festivals” when quizzed by Greens MP Michael Berkman about plans to introduce pill testing at music events in the state.

“I think there is evidence both from other jurisdictions in Australia but also internationally, which would suggest that having drug checking facilities, particularly temporary ones, or even fixed sites, can contribute to saving lives,” he said.

Speaking with The Music today, Berkman added: "Pill testing at festivals is an issue that I’ve been interested in for a long time, but I suppose that the decimation of the festival scene due to the pandemic has really put it on the back burner a bit, and I wanted to move past that.

“It’s a bit disappointing that no progress has been made over the past couple of years since the trial at Groovin The Moo, but it is encouraging to hear people like Ivan backing the idea of, not just temporary, local-specific pill testing facilities at festivals, but the potential benefits or harm reduction we’d see from fixed, longer-term facilities.”

Berkman stated that there are plenty of organisations who are able to facilitate pill testing, it’s just the government needs to, in some ways, “get out of the road”.

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“But there are no doubt things that they could do to make it easier and simplify things; whether it’s insurance or just ensuring that there are no criminal or legal repercussions under Queensland’s law for the providers there," he said.

“That’s the sort of stuff that needs to be dealt with ASAP.”

Berkman stressed the urgency of the matter as we approach “the first unbridled festival season” in a few years, noting that “it’s really important that there’s some fast movement on this”.

“Because we know they’ll be taking it, they might as well have that information at their disposal," he said.

“Festivalgoers are going to be more excited about this summer than they have been for any we can remember, so it’s time to get moving.”

Earlier this year, it was announced just days out from Groovin The Moo kicking off that the festival’s pill testing service in Canberra had been pulled due to insurance roadblocks.

Pill Testing Australia and Harm Reduction Australia were originally confirmed to offer pill testing at the Canberra leg of this year’s festival, with support from both event organisers and the ACT government.

“We are not permitted to provide this important (and potentially lifesaving) public health service for young people without insurance and yet despite all the risk mitigation and protocols in place for the service, not one insurance company seems prepared to insure the service,” Harm Reduction Australia President Gino Vumbaca OAM said to insurers at the time.

“Your inability to see how pill testing reduces the risk of harm at festivals has substantially increased the risk of harm for young people attending the festival, and their families. You have turned your back on the community you serve and the many health professionals and volunteers that try to make the community we live in a safer and more humane place for everyone.

“I am not sure what the answer is for the future of pill testing and other services that engage with people who use drugs, but intervention at the government level seems to be the only real option to pursue.”