Australia

'We need that seat at the table': Young people weigh in on pill testing debate

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A group of harm reduction advocates have called on politicians to listen to the evidence on pill testing as NSW prepares for new on-the-stop fines for drug possession at music festivals to be introduced this weekend.

Young people are being left out of the conversation about pill testing despite being the group most likely to be affected by the outcome, according to advocates.

Shelley Smith, a spokesperson for the Ted Noffs Foundation's Take Control Campaign, told SBS News that policymakers need to listen to young people and hear what they think about pill testing.

Shelley Smith said young people have been left out of the drug testing debate.
Shelley Smith said young people have been left out of the drug testing debate.
SBS News

"As a young person, it angers and saddens me that in the debate about pill testing, and drug policy in general, the voices of young people are constantly left out of the conversation," she said. 

"Whatever decision arises from pill testing, it is going to be people my age who are affected the most and yet we are the ones heard the least.

"We need a seat at the table."

The comments come as NSW prepares for on-the-spot fines for drug possession at music festivals to come into effect this weekend, a move recommended by an expert panel commissioned by Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Ms Smith said on-the-spot fines are a step in the right direction, as opposed to giving young people court notices and a criminal record. 

"What we are doing right now, in terms of criminalising young people, is putting them in risky situations because as we know when people see sniffer dogs they panic and often consume all their drugs at once so they are not detected.

"With very heavy law enforcement presence as well, it hasn't done anything to stop the adverse reactions and the deaths.

"They've kept going no matter how many police we put on the ground and how many sniffer dogs."

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard said the government would also have more doctors, nurses and paramedics on the ground at festivals this weekend, including Saturday's Harder Styles United at Olympic Park, Sydney. 

Dr David Caldicott, the clinical lead of Pill Testing Australia, demonstrates how a pill testing machine works.
Dr David Caldicott, the clinical lead of Pill Testing Australia, demonstrates how a pill testing machine works.
SBS News

"Tragically, we have had five deaths at festivals in six months, with MDMA (ecstasy) implicated in all of them, so we have strengthened our emergency manpower and messaging," he said.

"The reality is you are dicing with death with illicit drugs, and even with the best emergency specialists available, there is no guarantee if you overdose that you will survive."

Ms Smith said the Premier Berejiklian needed to "listen to the experts and the evidence" on pill testing.

"I don't think the government can say they are doing everything they can to stop these deaths at the moment," she said.

On Monday, an inquest into the spate of deaths at Australian music festivals due to suspected overdoses heard that one of the victims had taken between six and nine MDMA pills on the day he died. 

Currently, the coroner is examining the deaths of five young people - Diana Nguyen, Joseph Nguyen Binh Pham, Callum Brosnan, Joshua Gerard Tam and Alexandra Ross-King - at NSW festivals since mid-September last year. 

At the directions hearing on Monday, however, it was announced that two more deaths may also be examined

Pill testing was not mentioned at the hearing. 

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