Malcolm Turnbull

Bob Carr backs call for pill testing to tackle drug-related deaths

Bob Carr says that the promotion of Avigdor Lieberman to Defence Minister signals a dangerous lurch to the right in Israel. Source: AAP

Former NSW premier Bob Carr said he cautiously supports running a pilot program to 'pill test' party drugs as a harm minimisation strategy, following the drug-related deaths of two people in a week.

Former New South Wales premier Bob Carr has added his voice to those calling for "pill testing" of drugs at music festivals in an attempt to reduce the number of drug-related deaths.

South Australia Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of 19-year-old Stefan Woodward at Adelaide's Stereosonic Music Festival on Saturday, which they believe is linked to a batch of dodgy orange pills stamped with dollar signs. 

Mr Woodward became the sixth person this year to die from an apparent drug overdose at a music festival.

His death comes a week after pharmacist Sylvia Choi, 25, died after taking ecstasy at Sydney's Stereosonic Festival on November 28.

Mr Carr said the tragic deaths highlighted the urgency of the issue, and said he cautiously supports calls for a pilot pill testing program in Australia. 

“I like the notion of strengthening the ability of authorities to persuade young people to say ‘no’ to peer-group pressure to take drugs," he told the Australian.

The 30-minute test, used in several countries in Europe, involves analysing a sample of drug and the provision of educational materials on drugs and support services.

As Premier of NSW in 1999, Mr Carr authotised the creation of a medically supervised drug injecting room at Kings Cross after lengthy consultations with the community. 

He said that support from members of the community ensured the policy succeeded. 

"I think we have to continue to work at that in schools, but we face an enormous problem with so-called party drugs — it is a big step I’m suggesting we consider, but let’s have careful consultation to lay out the best way forward. It may be the least bad alternative,” he told the Australian.

He said finding the right policy response to the problem of drug use by youths, particularly at music festivals and concerts, is difficult.

“I concede that nothing in this space is happy,” he said. “But it is about finding a least bad solution. Sadly, to me, it looks like young people will go on using ­ecstasy, and other drugs, despite the...known risks.”

Health experts have urged Australia to adopt pill testing either on-site or offsite, saying the measure has had an impact in several European countries.

Pill testing is not supported by NSW Police.

"We should be focused upon reducing demand and educating people as to the dangers of drugs, not incentivising the manufacture, supply and use of these dangerous substances," superintendent Tony Cooke told the Australian.

Woodward family calls for action in wake of tragedy

The devastated family of Stefan Woodward wants something good to come of his drug overdose death.

Stefan Woodward's mum says the "happy, fun loving" Stefan was celebrating after completing his studies on Friday, and was looking forward to getting an apprenticeship.

"I keep asking what could have stopped me from losing my son, and my other two sons from losing their darling brother," Julie Davis said in a statement issued by SA Police.

"More than anything I want something good to come of this tragedy."

She called on festival organisers to increase access to first aid and free water, and she urged festival goers to never feel it was "weak to ask for help".

"And I want young boys and girls like Stefan to never be too scared to ask for help," Mrs Davis said.

"Mostly, I never want another family to go through what we are going through now."

Stefan died in hospital on Saturday and two other festival goers from the Adelaide event, a man, 20, and a 21-year-old woman, remain in a critical but stable condition.

SA Police are investigating whether the same pills - pink and with a dollar sign imprint - were involved in all three cases.

There was another death at Stereosonic's Sydney event when pharmacist Sylvia Choi, 25, was struck down, again by a suspected drug overdose.

A young Victorian man also remains in a serious but stable condition in intensive care, again from a suspected drug overdose, after Stereosonic held its Melbourne event on Saturday.

The Stereosonic Music Festival, which holds events across the major capitals from Nov 28 to Dec 6, is holding its final Brisbane-based event on Sunday.

The festival deaths have sparked calls for drug testing services to be allowed at Australian events so users know what they are taking.

The mother of a Melbourne man who died after taking drugs at a Victorian music festival in 2012 has collected 33,000 signatures so far in her campaign for drug testing services at festivals.

"Until we wise up and accept the reality that drug testing services are the only way forward, kids like my son and the most recent man in Adelaide - another mum's poor son - will continue to die," Andriana Buccianti said.

SA Police Superintendent John De Candia said such services were a matter for governments.

"If you want to be 100 per cent certain in relation to illicit drugs, if you want to be safe, the message is clear - don't take them," he said.

South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon wanted to know what duty of care the organisers felt they had to the young people at the festival.

"I have heard from people whose children went to this event ... that there were people snorting drugs off people's foreheads ... that there were so many people that were completely out of it," he said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sent his condolences to the Adelaide man's family, after he announced $300 million in new funding for treatment, prevention and education to tackle the ice scourge.

SA Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said pill testing would send a dangerous message to young people that drug taking was safe when it wasn't under any circumstances.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch