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We have a moral obligation to minimise the risk of harm to festival-goers or “festies”. Health professionals have the technology to act on this moral imperative – drug testing. What they don’t have is permission from our politicians and law enforcement agencies. The truth is there needn’t be more tragedies like Sylvia’s: her death may have been prevented if evidence-based drug-testing facilities had been in place.

Australian politicians have typically endorsed a deterrence-based approach to drug use at music festivals, with a strong police presence and drug dogs to catch offenders. Although deterrence methods are undoubtedly well-intentioned, evidence suggests that they are ineffective at protecting Australians from the harmful effects of contaminated substances. In fact, some evidence shows that drug dogs may actually increase harm, as frightened festival-goers hastily consume large quantities of drugs to avoid detection. And few drugs are deposited in amnesty bins.

Drug testing is about testing drugs, not potential users. It adopts a more humane approach, providing information to users on the content of drugs. Ecstasy pills, for example, often include particularly harmful substances like PMA or 4-MTA.

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Image: By Eva Rinaldi from Sydney, Australia – Future Music Festival 2013Uploaded by tm, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25418622

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