Experts are calling for a change in policing practice at music festivals following a new survey that showed police presence at music festivals leads punters to “panic overdose” to avoid getting caught.

As reported by The Guardian, researchers led by St. Vincent’s Clinical School at the University of NSW surveyed 1,229 anonymous attendees at six major music festivals in the state between November 2019 and March 2020.

Survey participants weighed in on their intended drug use, higher-risk drug-taking behaviors (pre-loading, double-dropping), and the influence police and police dog presence had on their decision to use drugs.

372 (30%) of participants intended to use drugs or had already used drugs the day of the festival. MDMA was the most common drug of choice (77%). Other reported drugs included ketamine, cocaine, cannabis, and LSD.

Concerning higher-risk behaviours, of the 286 participants using MDMA, 48% reported double-dropping (consuming two or more doses at once.) Researchers found a significant connex between policing and high-risk drug-taking behaviour. Participants said that festivals with police presence increased their likelihood of preloading drugs twofold.

“There’s a really growing body of evidence now in Australia that police and police dog presence and security strategies at festivals is actually potentially really harmful,” Dr Jonathan Brett, author of the study and senior research fellow at the University of NSW, said.

The researchers suggest that in addition to a changed approach to policing culture, there is a need for more targeted education to prevent high-risk behaviour, and pill testing. None of the festivals studied had pill testing facilities.

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“I really hope we can have a conversation, not about removing police altogether but potentially about a different approach to policing strategies that isn’t just about criminalising drug users,” says Bennett. “Everyone wants people to be safer and healthier, so we need to discuss how we can best achieve that.”

Earlier this week, lawyers at Slater and Gordon and the Redfern Legal Centre launched a class action investigation into “unlawful” police strip searches of hundreds of attendees at Splendour In The Grass Festival.

The investigation follows piling concerns about the use of strip searches, as seen in watchdog investigations, internal police documents, and coroner’s reports from the last six year. Though the action will focus solely on strip searches at Splendour In The Grass.