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Spain is one of a handful of European countries where pill testing during music festivals is not a recent practice.
15 Jan 2019 - 10:22 AM  UPDATED 17 Jan 2019 - 9:02 AM

Debate continues in Australia about whether to enforce pill testing during music festivals following the death of 19-year-old Alex Ross-King from a suspected drug overdose at the FOMO festival in Sydney on Saturday.

It was the fifth such death in NSW since mid-September. 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has remained steadfast on her stance of employing a traditional approach for drug prevention, rather than pill testing.

Spain is one of the ten countries in the European Union that provides services for drug control, through initiatives such as the Energy Control project, which has mobile laboratories that travel to festivals to analyse the composition of synthetic substances used by young people in fixed places, including Barcelona, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca and Andalusia.

The drug testing services have been applied very successfully since the organisation began offering the free and anonymous service in 1997, the state coordinator of the Energy Control Nuria Calzada told SBS Spanish.

This approach began during the rise in popularity of electronic music and ecstasy, at a time when the consumption of narcotics and the use of synthetic recreational drugs increased.

Based on previous experiences in the prevention and treatment of drugs, the Energy Control project began to be implemented in Spain to analyse illegal substances on site.

'Focus more on the drug consumer'

Ms Calzada said when dealing with drug control, there was a need to assume a strategy which was "different from the classic universal prevention, which says no to drugs".

"You have to take it on. It's the reality," she said.

She said it was important to "focus more on the consumer" of the drug, whose profile is generally that of a person over 18 years of age with the ability to think, but sometimes "make wrong decisions because they do not have the information".

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According to the latest report from the Global Drug Survey, which was based on a survey of 100,000 consumers in 50 countries, including Spain, ecstasy was consumed more than ever in Europe and its purity posed a danger to those who consumed the drug.

For several years, ecstasy super-tablets in Europe have contained a higher purity level of MDMA, according to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

MDMA (methylenedioxide-methamphetamine) is a drug belonging to the amphetamine family that mainly produces a sense of euphoria.

This drug was first seen in Spain during the 1980s.

The analysis of pills, glass and ecstasy powder consumed in Spain showed an increase in the concentration and purity of MDMA, according to Energy Control.



The group said that in 2018, the concentration of MDMA dropped to a minimum of 82 milligrams per pill in Spain, compared to the average of around 98 milligrams.

Ms Calzada said the group had analysed pills which went as high as 300 milligrams per pill.

She said the higher the concentration of MDMA, as well as the mixing with other substances, posed a risk to the health of consumers, who may already be suffering from heat stroke and attacks of anxiety.

"What is happening is lack of information, people take a pill when it is really a pill that takes two, three or four doses and this is where the problems occur," she said.

The organisation believes that a way to mitigate the risk in public health is through the installation of fixed and mobile laboratories to analyse the composition of drugs.

This is done almost immediately through chromatographic methods, among others, in which the composition of the drug is determined, although it does not give the exact percentages of its components.

This is enough for the user to make a decision about ingesting the pill or how to ingest it.

Ms Calzada said that in 99 per cent of cases, users make a "very logical" decision, which is to avoid consuming the pill if the results show that the drug does not contain substances or are adulterated or contain unknown substances, because "nobody wants to die or have a bad time". 

She said the implementation of these services also offered additional advantages to know the habits of the young population and to reassess the strategies of prevention and monitoring of drug use.

"Beyond the result, the strategy is a perfect hook to contact a young population that is difficult to access," she said. 

"It is a perfect excuse to open channels of communication, while analysing, on habits or dynamics of consumption.

"This information allows one to detect which guidelines are not being done correctly or what we could improve and thus reduce the risks of heat stroke, anxiety, in short, a lot of things that can happen with the issue of drugs and what happens because precisely people do not have information."

Other countries where pill testing is prevalent is in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Germany and France.