‘Enough is enough’: Tide finally turning
IT HAS been shot down so many times after numerous festival deaths, but immense pressure means the tide is beginning to turn on a pill testing.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian - who's been vehemently opposed to the harm-minimisation approach at festivals when asked on numerous occasions - remarkably appeared to soften her stance when asked about yet another suspected drug death at an Australian music festival.
However, she said she is yet to be convinced.
"If there was a way in which we could ensure that lives were saved through pill testing we would consider it - but there is no evidence provided to the government on that," Ms Berejiklian told reporters.
Not only that, Queensland's Liberal National Party, similarly to Ms Berejiklian, said it would also be open to the policy if they were shown conclusive evidence it would save lives.
The Sunshine State party's declaration comes as the Palaszczuk government announced on Tuesday it would consider pill testing, partly based on findings from a trial at the Groovin' the Moo music festival in Canberra last year.
The remarkable announcements come after a sustained and emotive campaign from pill testing advocates and two suspected drug overdose deaths in the past week.
A 20-year-old died following the Beyond the Valley festival in Victoria and 22-year-old Brisbane man Joshua Tam after the Lost Paradise event in NSW - and several others have cheated death after being rushed to hospital.
Political pressure to at least give the idea a try is also mounting. NSW Opposition Leader Michael Daley said pill testing "should not be off the table" and former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer has spoken out, saying "enough is enough".
"When are we going to learn that threats and our current 'Just Say No' campaign are not working and cannot work," Mr Palmer said. "It's not good enough for governments to ignore the available evidence when determining strategy and policy."
He said while young people can easily obtain drugs, they do not know what they are taking.
"In responding to tragedy we must sometimes face hard truths. Decades of a punitive approach where we arrest young people has not worked. It is time to take practical steps to make parties safer for our kids," he said.
"Pill testing is not a silver bullet but it's a proven and positive way to help prevent this kind of tragedy, has majority support from Australians and must be at least trialled on a pilot basis - if it doesn't work then stop it."
Outspoken Anglican priest Rod Bower waded into the debate yesterday, tweeting a photograph of the billboard outside his Gosford church which reads: "Just test the damn pills".
Leader of the Reason Party Fiona Patten fired up on a radio interview after another drug death, saying: "Testing could have saved those lives, she (the NSW Premier) has blood on her hands and to continue to say no (to pill-testing) is immoral."
And the pressure seems to be finally having an effect.
Queensland Deputy Opposition Leader Tim Mander said his party would consider pill testing if evidence suggested it would work, but added that he was worried it might give drug-users a "false sense of security".
"I'm concerned about the mixed messages and false sense of security that might provide to partygoers," Mr Mander said.
"We have to remember that these substances are illegal and they're illegal for a reason: one pill can kill. There would need to be overwhelming evidence from research to suggest that pill testing would help with the drug situation before the LNP could offer any support."
However, pill testing has faced criticism. John Lewis, an academic associated with the Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Technology Sydney wrote in a letter to The Australian today there were "issues" with the system.
He said it was "not possible" for any equipment to identify all of the hundreds of synthetic cannabinoids, benzodiazepines, amphetamines and opiates used in recreational drugs.
Not only that, he said a small sample of a pill might miss the deadly ingredient, as poorly made pills were not always mixed well.
"In other words, merely taking a scraping may well miss the impurity buried elsewhere within the tablet," he said.
Ms Berejiklian echoed her concerns over pill testing as she appeared to slightly soften her stance yesterday.
"Pill testing doesn't deal with overdoses, pill testing doesn't deal with the fact that what is safe for one person isn't safe for another person, pill testing doesn't deal with the fact that mixing drugs and alcohol is a lethal combination," she said.
However, some Liberal insiders have told The Sydney Morning Herald, Ms Berejiklian needs to be "more open-minded" because "what we have been doing so far clearly isn't working", while some have warned of the political ramifications of condoning pill testing.
"I am personally sympathetic to pill testing but I just don't think it is the right political message for a conservative government to say we would condone illegal drug taking," the source said.
"The politics of drug testing would not play out well for us and even though I am sympathetic there would be some (Liberals) who would never agree to us doing it."
Five revellers have died at Australian music festivals in about five months.
In Sydney, six people were charged with supplying MDMA, ketamine and other substances at a New Year's Day music festival.
Police on Tuesday arrested 155 people at Field Day in The Domain, among them two men, 19 and 21, and an 18-year-old woman allegedly found with 120 MDMA capsules.
On Wednesday they said five people were taken to hospital from the festival, four for drug-related issues, but the substances were yet to be determined. West Australia this week ruled out pill testing. In Queensland the health minister is considering the results of a trial in Canberra before making a call.
In Tasmania, where the Falls Festival is hosted between Christmas and New Year, the Liberal government has previously labelled pill testing "quality assurance for illicit and unlawful drug pushers".