‘We can start to remove the blindfolds.’

A previous Bass in the Grass festival. Image courtesy Bass in the Grass via Facebook.
A previous Bass in the Grass festival. Image courtesy Bass in the Grass via Facebook.

Drug treatment stakeholders are calling on decision-makers to implement a pill testing service at an upcoming music festival

The Association of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies NT, the peak body for non-government Alcohol and Other Drug treatment services in the Northern Territory, is calling on the Territory Government to consider a drug checking trial for the Bass in the Grass festival.

The BITG festival is expected to attract up to 14,000 patrons in May to Darwin, to attend one of the first music festivals to proceed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After discussions with stakeholders and organising staff, AADANT said it believes there may be a greater level of risk around alcohol and other drug use at the BITG festival, compared to pre-COVID events.

“Factors such as an increased crowd size, a considerable time period since events of this type have been held, and a significant change in demographics all contribute to the need for increased implementation of harm reduction measures,” it said in a statement this week.

“Of particular note is the change in demographic of attendee origin. Previous BITG festivals have seen approximately 75% local to 25% non-local attendee origin while this year’s event will see approximately 45% local to 55% non-local attendees. 

“This change increases the likelihood of a higher quantity, and wider variation of illicit substance prevalence at the festival.

“The Darwin region historically has limited illicit drug availability relative to other jurisdictions, and the potential increase in quantity and addition of substances more commonly seen in the festival scene interstate (such as cocaine and GHB) poses an increased risk of drug harms for this event.”

Pill testing at music festivals was an issue with growing support prior to the pandemic. An inquest into the deaths of six young people from drug use at these events produced a suggestion that a drug checking site – run by a pharmacist – was one option to help reduce harms from substances at festivals.

Other stakeholders have suggested pill testing could take place at community pharmacies.

A pilot service at Canberra’s Groovin the Moo festival was hailed as a success.

AADANT said it also supports initiatives such as the introduction of a DanceWize peer-education and support trial.

Gino Vumbaca from Pill Testing Australia— the organisation that collaborated in delivering Australia’s first legal Pill Testing service at Groovin’ the Moo in the ACT in 2018—has reiterated the organisation’s offer to provide a free trial of the service in every jurisdiction in Australia and has confirmed that the service has the capacity to operate at this year’s BITG festival if invited to do so. 

“By providing pill testing at festivals we can start to remove the blindfolds and provide people with information that we know changes their behaviour,” he said.

“By engaging with people who use drugs and by providing scientifically backed knowledge, our pill testing services can achieve a reduction in the number and volume of drugs consumed and consequently reduce harm.”

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