By Isabella Kwai
The deaths at the Defqon.1 festival in Sydney renewed a debate about drug policy in the country, with supporters of liberalization — and music — arguing that canceling popular events is needlessly heavy-handed.
For some the solution is prohibition, but an increasing number of so-called harm reduction advocates argue that drug use can be made safer, by educating concert attendees and by testing drugs for purity.
While shutting down the festival may score political points, it is unlikely to keep people from consuming illicit drugs, said Steve Allsop of the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University. “I can’t imagine any government that would be banning all music events, all night life and entertainment,” Professor Allsop said. “That’s just not feasible.”
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, almost half of Australians age 14 and over have tried an illicit drug at least once. About 15 percent said they had used drugs in the past 12 months. “Looking at the evidence, we tend to be relative high users of stimulants including MDMA, compared to many other countries,” Professor Allsop said, referring to the drug commonly known as ecstasy.
Pill testing has been available in some European countries for years. The service is one of several harm-reduction policies that have been available in the Netherlands since the 1990s.
The practice has also become more common over the past few years at festivals in the United States. A 2017 study found that individuals who submitted samples of MDMA for testing reported that they were significantly less likely to ingest drugs if they learned they were adulterated.