Why Australia needs pill testing at festivals

KIDS take drugs at music festivals. Like it or not, it is the truth. They just do. When you have 50,000 packed into a field with tooth-loosening bass lines warping the summer air, you can guarantee a collective mountain of pills, tabs and powders will be rattling around their pockets.

Festival season has already claimed two young lives in the past fortnight, with two more people still in hospital after drug overdoses.

Hundreds have received emergency medical treatment after getting "off chops" at what should have been a celebration of music and friendship.

The combination of 40-degree heat and ecstasy can be fatal, especially when those unassuming little pills are laced with other dangerous chemicals unbeknownst to the 20-year-old music lover who just double-dropped. And although government education campaigns are in full swing and police are cracking down harder than ever before, kids are still blindly gulping down whatever they find in their little zip-lock baggies.

Pill testing is not a magic bullet but it is an option that maybe, just maybe, could have prevented the Stereosonic deaths of 25-year-old Sylvia Choi and Stefan Woodward, 19.

The premise is simple. Festival organisers set up tents to measure the potency and chemical make-up of punters' drugs. If they discovered their presumed MDMA capsule was in fact equal parts ice and rat poison they could ditch it and get on with the day without turning into a convulsing dehydrated wreck.

It would require an amnesty for drug possession at festivals and the removal of sniffer dogs checking line-ups at entry gates, which have been linked to people fearfully gorging down their entire stashes before even hearing a song. The idea already has a tonne of support.

Adrianna Buccianti, whose son Daniel died at a festival in 2012, has launched an online petition calling for NSW Premier Mike Baird to allow drug checking services at such events. It already has more than 35,000 signatures after a bit more than a week. In his final phone call to his mother, Daniel told her: "Mum, I have taken some very bad acid and everything is very odd here."

Drug testing is already happening across Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom with a lot of success.

But it also has plenty of detractors. The "bad parenting, wouldn't happen to my kids" calls are for the most part just head-in-the-sand logic.

Go to one of these festivals and you just might be unpleasantly surprised just who is taking drugs.

Of course, the government could step in and make electronic music festivals illegal but that would just shift the problem. Kids will always find a way and until we all realise that, there will be more deaths.

Follow Chris Calcino on Twitter: @ChrisCalcino



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