As NSW authorities count the cost of another drug-related death at a music festival, pill testing advocates say doctors are on standby and they’re willing to volunteer their services at events to ensure more lives aren’t lost.

NSW health announced it was reviewing medical guidelines at festivals after a teenage girl died from a suspected drug overdose at Sydney’s FOMO music festival on the weekend. The 19-year-old victim, Alex Ross-King, from the Central Coast, is the fifth person to die from a suspected overdose at a NSW music fest in recent months.

Police believe the youngster took an “unidentified substance” and, on Sunday, Assistant Commissioner Mark Jones said police were reviewing music festivals “literally on a daily basis” as part of its crackdown on drugs. “We’re doing a large number of searches at events, we’re trying to detect prohibited drugs,” he said. “We’re making it really clear to organisers they have to put in good practices to try to prevent both the use and the bringing in of drugs to these festivals.”

Following the latest tragedy, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it “tore her to shreds” every time a young person lost their life to an overdose, though she remained unmoved on her position regarding pill testing. “As the leader of this state, as the leader of the Government, my job is to keep the community safe at all times and if there’s more we need to do we will,” she told reporters. “But I also want to make sure we look at every opportunity to reduce those deaths. I worry that something like pill testing could have the opposite effect.”

There’s still no sign of government or law enforcement adopting a fresh approach to the complex problem. “We are reviewing these music festivals literally daily,” Jones told reporters yesterday, noting event organisers would be subject to a “more robust” health and safety process from March.

pill testing
pill testing

Now, there are fresh signs the medical community will weigh in. In a statement issued Monday morning, Matt Noffs, CEO of Ted Noffs Foundation and spokesperson for the Take Control Campaign said doctors were “ready, willing and able to volunteer their expertise” on site at spaces where young party-goers take drugs.

Under current legislation, youngsters cans “buy a half-rate pill testing kit from a shop, legally,” Noffs noted. That’s a half-rate measure that could only exacerbate the problem. “What we are saying is this: allow these doctors onsite, allow them to speak to the young people, allow them to use medical grade equipment and allow them to save lives,” he added. “That’s pill testing. A pilot won’t cost the government anything. Anything less will be too little, too late.”

Noffs went on to define pill testing as a “medical intervention” and called on the country’s leaders to do everything in their power to “stop deaths, reduce harm, make our kids as safe as possible.”

In an open letter published last week, the newly formed Australian Festival Association pleaded with state and territory governments to implement new strategies to safeguard young music fans and make health and safety the “ultimate priority.”

The statement reads, “As festival promoters, the last thing we want is someone to be hurt under our care,” they continue. “We need to be able to legally implement preventative strategies, not just reactive ones, and include any harm minimization tools that are available. We believe, and have evidence to support, that a combination of robust harm minimization strategies will help Australians make safer choices and reduce the harmful impacts of drug use on festival-goers and the broader community.

“This necessarily involves a collaborative, multi-layered approach of drug education, peer-to-peer support, pill-testing, health services and policing.”

Meanwhile, advocates for pill testing will take to the streets this Saturday afternoon (Jan. 19) for a protest, set to be staged in front of the Sydney Town Hall and hosted by Keep Sydney Open, Unharm and other organisations.

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