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The NSW deputy coroner has officially recommended pill testing and the decriminalisation of drug possession

Sharon Masige
  • The NSW deputy coroner has called on the New South Wales government to introduce pill testing at music festivals.
  • It comes after an inquest into the deaths of six people at music festivals in NSW between December 2017 and January 2019.
  • The coroner also recommended the removal of police dogs and the decriminalisation of personal drug possession.

The NSW Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame has recommended pill testing be conducted at music festivals in New South Wales.

The recommendation comes after an inquest into the deaths of six people during or after music festivals in New South Wales between December 2017 and January 2019. The inquest found they had toxic levels of MDMA in their system at the time of their death.

Following the inquest, Grahame recommended that the state government introduce supervised pill testing or drug checking at music festivals in New South Wales, with a pilot beginning in the summer of 2019-2020.

She also suggested the need to look into decriminalising drugs for personal use as a harm reduction method. "There is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates the benefits of alternatives to arrest for use and possession offences," Grahame noted.

Grahame further recommended a change in the way music festivals are policed.

"The presence of police and dogs can be intimidating," Grahame said in the report, and can lead to "panic ingestion" or "pre-loading" of drugs which can further drive the likelihood of injury or death.

"Other research suggests that a heavy police presence at the entry point can lead patrons to make a decision to purchase drugs inside the venue," Grahame pointed out.

Grahame went on to discuss the harm that can be caused by the presence of police dogs as well.

"In my view there is strong evidence that the operation of drug dog detection programs may cause significant harm in the music festival environment," she said.

"Risky ingestion and secretion, trauma especially when coupled with strip search and the destruction of trust between young people and police are all serious concerns. There is also evidence that the program does not in any event, deter drug users from consuming drugs."

Linked to drug detection dogs are strip searches.

The report found there has been a rise in the number of people getting strip searched in New South Wales, most of whom were suspected to have possessed drugs. On top of that, were findings that some NSW police officers had a poor understanding of current strip search legislation, something that "concerned" the court.

In light of the inquest findings, Grahame recommended that NSW police remove drug detection dogs and amend the police handbook so that strip searches are undertaken in certain circumstances.

Grahame also recommended the New South Wales government create a permanent drug checking facility and research technologies that can make drug analysis be made available on site at music festivals.