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Drug testing saves lives at GTM Canberra festival

The Pill Testing Australia (PTA) consortium returned to Canberra-based music festival Groovin the Moo for the second time this year, with increased numbers of punters using the service and a higher quantity of lethal substances detected.

The consortium, previously known as the Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE), detected seven lethal substances among the 171 samples tested.

The testing revealed the potential fatal samples to contain n-ethylpentylone, a substituted cathinone believed to be responsible for a number of deaths, detected for the first time in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) during the first drug-testing trial at Groovin’ the Moo last year.

PTA reports that in all seven cases, those found to possess potentially harmful substances elected to discard the drugs in the amnesty bin after learning about the dangers involved.

MDMA, cocaine, ketamine and methamphetamine were also identified during the trial at Groovin the Moo (20,000-cap.) which featured performances from Billie Eilish and Hilltop Hoods.

According to PTA, the second edition of the pill testing service was “overwhelmingly positive”. The organisation carried out twice the amount of tests as the year before, with 234 punters opting to use the service, compared to 129 in 2018.

Despite the success, PTA has announced that the drug testing at this year’s Groovin the Moo would be the last free trial it runs in the ACT, as enough data has been collected to prove the pilot works.

“This is a healthcare intervention and we are trying to encourage young people to learn a little about the stuff they are putting into themselves”

A PTA representative confirms that the consortium would like to continue testing but could not do so on a self-funding basis.

“Pill Testing Australia is a not-for-profit, we’re only looking at cost recovery,” says PTA co-founder, Gino Vumbaca.

The organisation is crowdfunding to run further pill-testing trials at music festivals, as well as exploring the use of public subscriptions and promoter-based funding. PTA has ruled out charging festivalgoers for the service.

“We will never charge the punter,” says PTA’s Dr David Caldicott. “This is a healthcare intervention and we are trying to encourage young people to learn a little about the stuff they are putting into themselves.”

The ACT is currently the only state in Australia to allow pill testing. ACT health minister Meegan Fitzharris says the state government is committed to “contemporary approaches”, focused on harm reduction, rather than punitive practices.

Groovin the Moo festivals taking place in Adelaide and Maitland, New South Wales (NSW), over the weekend (26 to 28 April) did not offer pill-testing services. NSW police said 14 people were taken to hospital with suspected drug and alcohol intoxication cases at the Maitland festival.

NSW has been at the centre of the pill testing discussion, following a strong of drug-related deaths at festivals in the region. The government has consistently rejected calls to introduce testing services, opting for the implementation of new licensing laws that demand detailed safety plans from festival organisers and impose significant licensing and security costs.



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