Coroner’s report recommends drug policy overhaul in NSW

Amanda Lyons

8/11/2019 3:10:56 PM

The report has recommended trialling pill testing and stopping the use of sniffer dogs and strip searches at music festivals in the state.

Pill testing.
The NSW Coroner's report report has recommended implementation of pill testing at music festivals in the state, as well as a reduction in punitive policing measures.

‘The faces of these young people will remain with me going forward, along with the hope that improvements will be made,’ Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame told the New South Wales Coroners Court when handing down the findings of her report.
The report is the result of an inquest into the drug-related deaths of six festival-goers between December 2017 and January 2019. Three weeks’ of evidence was heard from a large number of witnesses, including medical professionals, festival-goers and music industry representatives.
Ms Grahame stated she had 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,’ she said.
‘Drug checking is simply an evidence-based harm-reduction strategy that should be trialled as soon as possible.’
Ms Grahame also suggested the NSW Government give serious consideration to decriminalisation of small amounts of drugs held for personal use, and that the problem of drug-related harm at music festivals needs to be viewed with ‘fresh eyes’, with priorities to be reframed from ‘reducing drug use, to reducing drug death’.
She was also critical of what she described as a punitive approach to policing at music festivals, recommending the end of widespread strip searches and sniffer dogs for the purposes of drug detection. Ms Grahame believes such tactics may push young people into higher-risk behaviour, such as taking all of their drugs at once to prevent detection and arrest.
‘I am of the firm view that there is sound evidence that high-visibly policing and use of drug detection dogs at music festivals is a harmful intervention,’ she said.
However, following the report’s release, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller issued a statement to counter the suggestion policing methods were ‘implicit’ in the deaths, arguing that music festivals ‘create a concentrated market for drug supply and organised criminal groups’.
‘From a policing perspective, we remain committed to reducing the supply of illicit drugs throughout NSW, including at music festivals,’ he said.
While the NSW Government’s response to the coroner’s recommendations is yet to be seen, its reactions when the report’s draft findings were leaked and detailed last month by The Daily Telegraph suggest it is unlikely to change its approach to drug and alcohol policy any time soon.
‘What we are seeing is young people at these festivals overdosing, dehydrated, and they’re losing their lives, so I don’t see pill testing as the answer,’ NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said.

Harm minimisation Illicit drugs NSW Pill testing


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