Under the plan, drugs confiscated at festivals by police would be tested by on-site chemists.
Under the plan, drugs confiscated at festivals by police would be tested by on-site chemists.

Ambos push for pill testing at festivals

Revellers at summer music festivals would be alerted to bad batches of illicit drugs under a radical pill testing plan from the state's paramedics.

The Victorian Ambulance Union is offering to meet pill testing opponents halfway by urging a "back of house" testing regime it says could save lives.

Under the plan, drugs confiscated at festivals by police would be tested by on-site chemists.

If they identified dangerous or dodgy substances, festival-goers would be alerted via social media or electronic billboards.

The union says the state's emergency alert system could even be used to send text messages to people in the area to warn them about potentially deadly drugs.

"The Victorian Ambulance Union state council overwhelmingly supports drug testing at music festivals as a means of saving lives, freeing up ambulance resources to attend to other emergencies and avoid assaults on our members," union boss Danny Hill told the Herald Sun.

 

The Victorian Ambulance Union wants testing of pills seized at festivals by police. Picture: Mark Metcalfe (Getty Images)
The Victorian Ambulance Union wants testing of pills seized at festivals by police. Picture: Mark Metcalfe (Getty Images)

 

"However it appears there is not likely to be a shift politically to introduce pill testing in Victoria. So while we continue to campaign for change in this space, perhaps a halfway measure can be considered."

Mr Hill said this would not include testing drugs presented voluntarily by users.

Victoria Police and the state government are staunchly opposed to pill testing.

At least a dozen people overdosed at major Victorian music festivals last summer - with seven admitted to hospital during Rainbow Serpent Festival - and more than 100 people were caught with drugs.

With the summer festival season starting next month, the City of Melbourne will decide on Tuesday whether to back legislation from a state Greens MP for a full mobile pill testing trial.

Some Labor members have also formed a new drug law reform group and will use this weekend's state party conference to call on the government to deliver a trial including "back of house" facilities and an early warning system.

And the New South Wales coroner last week recommended the introduction of pill testing after an inquest into the drug-related deaths of six young people at music festivals.

Mr Hill has written to Mental Health Minister Martin Foley, but a government spokeswoman said on Monday: "We have no plans to allow for pill testing at events in Victoria."

 

Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill.
Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill.

 

Hill believes the new plan will not be anywhere near as effective as a full pill testing program.
Hill believes the new plan will not be anywhere near as effective as a full pill testing program.

 

After the Victorian Ambulance Union voted heavily in favour of pill testing last summer, in the wake of several overdose deaths, Ambulance Victoria encouraged the government to take a closer look at the reform.

Writing in Tuesday's Herald Sun, Mr Hill said the new plan was "nowhere near as effective as a full pill testing program" and would require an "expedient process" involving police, festival organisers and testing providers.

But he said it was worth considering as "it appears there is not likely to be a shift politically to introduce pill testing in Victoria", and having worked overseas, it could "serve as a measure that can still save lives".

"Every paramedic that I represent has attended seriously unwell patients at music festivals, raves and parties who have taken drugs that contain a concoction of chemicals that can kill them," Mr Hill wrote.

"Typically these patients are young people who are seriously misinformed about what is in their drugs."

Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation president Alex Wodak will lead a fringe event at Labor's conference this week, organised by the "Labor for Drug Law Reform" group that was set up earlier this year.

They are calling on the government to set up a mobile pill testing service this summer, and to commission a study into the viability of "front of house" testing at venues within Melbourne's CBD.

 

Fans watch Amy Shark at Falls Festival last summer. Picture: Anthony Smith
Fans watch Amy Shark at Falls Festival last summer. Picture: Anthony Smith

 

Premier Daniel Andrews has repeatedly ruled out pill testing, saying earlier this year there was "no safe level at which you can consume this stuff".

"The notion you can bring certainty to it, I just think is wrong and potentially dangerous because it misleads people," he said.

The government has instead boosted funding for drug and alcohol services, spending about $20 million a year on harm reduction initiatives such as DanceWize, which sends volunteers to provide peer support services at festivals.

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It comes after the Sunday Herald Sun revealed police would beef up their focus on several festivals this summer, starting with Beyond the Valley and Falls Festival over New Year's.

Assistant Commissioner Glenn Weir said the force was "not shying away" from tackling illicit drugs, promising extra officers along with drug buses, drones and dog squads.

Festival organisers will also be made to foot the bill for the increased police presence.

tom.minear@news.com.au

@tminear