With the number of MDMA and ecstasy users requiring hospital assistance almost doubling over the past six years, is it time for the Australian government to revise their polices against illicit party drugs?
A study of patient data from 59 NSW emergency departments shows a steady increase in the number of ecstasy related medical cases for people aged 16 to 24, rising from 413 in 2010 to 814 by 2015 (Four Corners). In 2015 alone six people died from ecstasy related deaths including 25-year-old Sylvia Choi, who died after attending Stereosonic in Sydney.
Drug use at music festivals and the subsequent increasing death rate are serious issues that the Australian government claims to be doing everything in their power to prevent, but as Dr Alex Wodak, President of the Drug Law Reform Foundation suggests, there is a way to drastically reduce the risk of death that the government refuses to accept.
Drug testing is a simple enough concept, where people who bring drugs to a festival for personal use can have them tested to find out exactly what is in them. For obvious reasons, this reduces risk of serious harm and even death because users would no longer need to gamble with the drugs they are taking, and are therefore better equipped to make wiser choices.
“The number of these deaths seems to be increasing, and it doesn’t have to be like this,” Dr Wodak says. “People who test drugs at these events can find out that the drug that they’ve just bought is dangerous and would risk their life if they took it.”
NSW Premier, Mike Baird, responded to this by saying, “In very simple terms that is an absolutely ridiculous proposal … We’re in a position that we absolutely do not support that in any way … There is a very safe way to go about pills and that is don’t take them.” (ABC News)
That is all well and good to say, but the issue is Baird has unrealistic expectations about drug use and as a result his methods of reducing it have fallen on deaf ears. He may as well be pushing for abstinence before marriage if he thinks he is going to be able to stop young people from using drugs altogether.
He claims his method of harsher penalties for drug holding and increased sniffer dog presence at festivals is a successful strategy, but it has not deterred young people from using and Australia has become the highest user of ecstasy in the world (UN World Drug Report). Einstein himself once said that: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results”.
Anyone who believes this is an effective
strategy has never witnessed, first hand, a person freaking out at the sight of a dog and quickly swallowing all of their pills at once. Not only that, but instead of people bringing in drugs from sources they trust, their fear of getting caught forces them to try their luck purchasing whatever they can find inside the festival. You are not reducing drug use, Mr Baird, you are only making people take greater risks.
I believe the key is in proper education, one that doesn’t lie to youths, telling them that drugs will instantly ruin their lives. If you tell people that drugs are terrible and then they try them and have an amazing time, they are immediately going to dismiss everything you’ve ever told them. Education needs to be truthful, informing young people that drugs do feel good but that is what makes them so dangerous.
The issue of drug abuse should be considered a medical one not and legal one and as such health and safety should be the top priority over government appearance. As emergency physician and drug expert, Dr David Caldicott, told The Huffington Post “I don’t give a shit about the morality or philosophy of drug use, all I care about it is people staying alive”.
Pill testing is not such an insane idea when you consider the level of harm-reduction it stands to achieve. Several European countries have already implemented this system including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Spain and France.
Meanwhile drugs, like alcohol, are still legal (under certain regulations), despite the fact that alcohol kills an average of 15 Australians a day and the harms from alcohol cost Australia $15.3 billion a year (druginfo.org). Now, I’m not saying the government should legalise drugs, but I can’t help but wonder why some evils are allowed legalisation and regulation while others are not.
Alison Ritter for the Australian National Council on Drugs has said there are other benefits to pill testing that research has shown. For one, products identified as particularly dangerous are more likely to exit the market completely and the ingredients of pills will start to correspond to the expected components over time because dealers will suddenly become accountable. This suggests pill testing might be able to change the black market in positive ways. On top of this, pill testing provides researchers with a wealth of information that can be used to keep better track of the market and improve ways of decreasing it. It also provides an outlet to reach recreational users directly and establish contact for the basis of follow-up work before they enter the high risk stages of drug addiction.
Ritter stated in an article for The Ethics Centre: “Checking does not mean drug use will become legal, it means providing people who have chosen to use
drugs with the opportunity to be better informed about the drugs they may consume … Harm reduction services can sit hand-in-hand with the view that drugs should be illegal, drug checking alone does not lead inevitably to legalisation.”