The NSW coroner wants to use pill testing at festivals to stop Australians dying – but the state government is refusing to budge an inch

NSW festivals like Splendour are unlikely to receive pill testing under this state government. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe, Getty Images)
  • NSW deputy coroner Harriet Grahame has recommended the state introduce pill testing at music festivals, after a three-week inquest into the death of six young Australians between December 2017 and January 2019.
  • The proposal — leaked this week — was shot down on Wednesday by Premier Gladys Berejiklian who told the ABC that the policy “sends the wrong message”.
  • That’s despite “an abundance of evidence in support of pill testing”, according to pill testing advocate and emergency doctor David Caldicott.

Despite a direct recommendation from the state coroner, the New South Wales government won’t even consider allowing pill testing to take place at music festivals.

The measure — which would allow festivalgoers to find out the contents of their potentially dangerous drugs before taking them — was proposed by deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame among several other draft recommendations that were leaked to the media. It has been almost immediately shot down by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian however.

“We will not go down that path because we feel very strongly that it sends a wrong message,” Berejiklian told ABC News on Wednesday in response. “It actually gives people a false sense of security because how one person reacts to a drug is very different to another person reacting and unfortunately we have seen people lose their lives by taking what is a pure substance, a pure drug.

“What pill testing does is pick up on irregularities, however pill testing doesn’t protect people from the actual substance itself and that’s what concerns us as a Government.”

It’s not the first time the government has ruled out the idea. In fact, it’s reiterated its opposition to the measure time and time again despite a push by different groups including public policy professors and medical experts. That includes Canberra emergency doctor and pill testing advocate David Caldicott who told the ABC “there’s an abundance of evidence in support of pill testing”.

“[Pill testing is] only controversial in the eyes of people who haven’t looked into it and read about it, in the eyes of science and medicine these moves are not at all controversial,” he said.

Other policies recommended by the coroner include doing away with current policies like heavy police presences, body searches and sniffer dogs — all of which opponents say do far more harm than good. They followed a three-week coronial inquest that examined six deaths at different events between December 2017 and January 2019. Supporters of the coroners expressed disappointment at the government’s stance.

“Oftentimes, [coroners and coronial inquests are] the only way to get past the politics, and to the truth, which is why those opposed to an honest conversation are so scared of them,” Caldicott tweeted.

The NSW government is instead reintroducing legislation that would require the 11 NSW festivals deemed “high risk” to implement a safety management plan with mandated numbers of security and medical staff on site.

It seems the NSW government is unwilling to test any new ideas, let alone pills.

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