Music festival pill-testers continue to skirt the truth in their campaign to expand their services beyond Canberra. At last weekend’s Splendour in the Grass music festival at Byron Bay in northern NSW, the equipment was again on show, with claims that lives are saved with testing.
Testing is about identifying deadly contaminants, but the inconvenient truth out of the NSW coronial inquest into the series of drug deaths at music festivals is all deaths were due to an ecstasy (MDMA) overdose combined with environmental factors such as the weather, hydration and other drugs.
But it gets worse. Under sustained questioning last weekend, Canberra emergency physician and testing proponent David Caldicott continued to muddy the waters, claiming that upgrading to more advanced gas chromatography (GCMS) would allow more accurate measuring of the dosage.
It fell to toxicologists to mop up with the details, explaining that GCMS could establish dose only with additional testing and infrastructure — in other words, transporting expensive mobile laboratories to every music festival in the country. To determine an actual MDMA dose, the entire pill needs to be sacrificed for testing, defeating the point of the test for users who want their expensive pill back. Only suppliers with batches to sell would benefit
Caldicott’s methods open up a canyon of concerns, defended on the flimsiest of grounds — that it’s done overseas. Australia’s festival temperatures can be double Amsterdam’s, presenting serious risks of hyperthermia and dehydration. Combining even small MDMA doses with caffeine, alcohol and other drugs here can be lethal. So many consume pills before arriving at events that about a tenth of ACT clients required a second assessment to determine if they were too intoxicated to counsel.
Startlingly, the ACT trial had no age check to prevent minors being counselled or police checks to prevent suppliers sending in samples of their inventory for assessment.
The decision to discard pills is left to the user, which opens up possibilities such as on-selling, cocktailing with other drugs in an attempt to dilute the danger or, worse, retribution against festival dealers who supply about a third of the material.