Australian State Coroner Urges Pill Testing at Music Festivals

In an effort to combat drug-related deaths at music festivals, an Australian state coroner is recommending that festivals in New South Wales (NSW) conduct pill testing.

The recommendation of deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame came as a result of an inquest that was investigating the deaths of six people between the ages of 18 and 23 at music festivals. They all died in the last two years from MDMA toxicity or from complications arising from the use of MDMA.

Before last year, there had only been a dozen MDMA-related deaths at NSW music festivals in the prior decade.

Grahame also recommended the decriminalization of personal drug use at festivals and the elimination of the use of sniffer dogs. She said that the policing of festivals, through the use of drug dogs and “large scale” strip-searching offered “inherent dangers and few if any benefits,” because it could lead to “panic ingestion” and “dangerous preloading,” which, in turn, could increase the risks of overdoses.

Grahame hopes to implement a pill-testing trial, at both the festivals and in the communities where they take place, prior to next year’s summer lineup.

At the same time, though, she admitted that pill testing was not a panacea for the problem. “Of course drug-checking is not a magic solution to these tragic deaths,” she said. “Of course its introduction will not guarantee further deaths will not occur. Drug-checking is simply an evidence-based harm-reduction strategy that should be trialed as soon as possible in NSW.

Not everyone is supportive of pill testing. After the recommendation was previously leaked to the media, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said that pill testing would provide a “false sense of security” to festival attendees.

In addition to the six deaths, between 2018 and 2019, there were nearly 30 pre-hospital intubations at 25 NSW festivals as well as 25 intensive care admissions relating to drugs and another 23 additional hospital admissions relating to them.