NSW to introduce drug amnesty bins at music festivals

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The state is ‘closing the door on pill testing’, with the government ignoring most recommendations from an inquest into drug deaths.

Gladys Berejiklian

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has long opposed pill testing, believing it will give young people a ‘green light’ to take drugs. (Image: AAP)

Festivalgoers in New South Wales will be able to dump their drugs in amnesty bins ‘without any questions asked’ as part of the State Government’s response to a recent coroner’s report.


‘We believe amnesty bins are a good way to increase safety, so that young people, if they see police or other activity, don’t panic and have the opportunity without any questions asked to throw those pills into the bin,’ NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.


The NSW Government will not adopt the bulk of recommendations from Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame’s November report into drug deaths at music festivals, which found ‘compelling evidence’ that pill testing would support behavioural change in young people attending music festivals.


‘I am in no doubt whatsoever that there is sufficient evidence to support a drug-checking trial in NSW,’ Ms Grahame said in handing down the report. ‘Drug checking is simply an evidence-based harm-reduction strategy that should be trialled as soon as possible.’


The coroner’s report was the result of an inquest into the drug-related deaths of six festivalgoers in NSW between December 2017 and January 2019.


But Premier Berejiklian, a long-time and vocal opponent of pill testing, has said she is ‘closing the door’ on any such trial, incorrectly suggesting the technique is unable to check drug purity.


‘Certainly I read the findings of the deputy coroner’s report and it was harrowing reading. And if you look at the causes of deaths of those young people, it was pure MDMA in five out of the six cases, and in the sixth case was the combination of cocaine and MDMA,’ she said.


‘None of those lives would have been saved [by pill testing] because it was pure MDMA that killed those young people.’


But according to The Guardian, the recent inquest heard purity testing had been available at European music festivals for several years and, in her findings, Ms Grahame wrote that while the process is more expensive, suggestions pill testing could not check for purity are ‘clearly incorrect’.


The amnesty bins, which will be in place at festivals from 28 December, are a recommendation of Ms Grahame’s report.


Pill-testing and harm-minimisation advocates, however, argue the bins on their own will have little impact on young people’s drug-taking habits.


‘They don’t deter young people from taking drugs. They don’t explain why drugs aren’t good for you,’ Jennie Ross-King, whose 19-year-old daughter Alex died after taking multiple MDMA capsules before entering a festival in Parramatta, said in The Sydney Morning Herald.


‘I just don’t think amnesty bins are going to cut it. They’re not going to save lives.’


Prominent pill-testing advocate Dr David Caldicott echoed that sentiment.


‘We know that young people are unlikely to abandon their drugs because they aren’t doing that already,’ he said. ‘My experience with your average wheelie bin is that it’s not particularly efficient at providing customised medical advice to teenagers.’


The use of amnesty bins is supported by NSW police.


‘You should be aware that every pill, every drug that you use could be a fatal dose,’ NSW Minister for Police David Elliott said.


‘The police will leave you alone if you’ve decided that you have made a bad decision and you want to make sure you don’t expose yourself to that sort of dangerous behaviour.’

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