Pill test parents: ‘There will be more deaths’
THE parents of children who died in separate incidents from drug overdoses after attending music festivals have shared surprisingly different views about pill testing in an emotional appearance on national television.
It comes after five young people - Alex Ross-King, 19, Joshua Tam, 22, Callum Brosnan, 19, Joseph Pham, 23 and Diana Nguyen, 21 - died from suspected drug overdoses after attending recent music festivals in New South Wales.
The tragic cluster of senseless deaths since September has ramped up the debate about the proposed introduction of pill testing in Australia and renewed advocates' calls for drug policy reform.
The ABC's Q&A program dedicated an entire episode to the subject on Monday night with a panel of experts including NSW Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith; former drug user Kerryn Redpath; medical director Dr Marianne Jauncey; Pill Testing Australia pioneer Dr David Caldicott and former AFP Commissioner Mick Palmer. But it was two members of the audience who elicited the strongest response from viewers: Tony Wood, the father of 15-year-old Anna Wood who died after taking MDMA at a festival in 1995; and Adrianna Buccianti, the mother of Daniel Buccianti, 34, who died after taking drugs at a dance party in 2012.
While they might have the unenviable experience of having lost a child in common, the similarities appeared to end there, with their stances on the issue of pill testing worlds apart.
Mr Wood has had a long time to consider his position on pill testing. His daughter Anna and three of her friends all took the same tablets at a Sydney rave in October 1995. The schoolgirl's friends survived, but Anna died three days later. Mr Wood appeared from the audience on Monday's Q&A to explain why he's against pill testing.
"Look, in 1995 our daughter ingested MDMA, ecstasy, at a dance party," Mr Wood said.
"She stopped breathing in my arms. Her death was so new to Australia the coroner had to send tissue to the UK. It was confirmed the tablet Anna took that night was pure, it was not contaminated.
"She was doing what's instructed in the brochures: Drink plenty of water. My research revealed MDMA was banned in 1986 because it was dangerous. Drugs are idiosyncratic, so how would pill testing save lives? It won't."
Adrianna Buccianti is of the opposite view. Her son Daniel Buccianti died after he attended a music festival in 2012 and accidentally overdosed on drugs.
"Mum, I have taken some very bad acid and everything is very odd here," Mr Buccianti said in his last ever phone call to his mother. A few hours later, the 34-year-old was dead.
"I know that the pill testing isn't a silver bullet, but at the moment we have nothing," Ms Buccianti said on Monday night.
"And I know that if there was a pill testing service when my son was alive back then, and the discussion was happening, that he would never have wanted to come out in a body bag.
"So we're assuming these young people don't care about their lives. We need to provide a safety net just like we do everything else."
Pill Testing Australia, the experts behind a 2018 pill-testing trial in Canberra, have offered state and territory governments across Australia a free pilot program.
Speaking on Q&A, Pill Testing Australia pioneer Dr David Caldicott said "pill testing does not treat overdose" and that its purpose was to prevent them.
"Unfortunately I think the way this is going to resolve is there will be more deaths and in the end a series of coronial reports that forces people's political hands," Dr Caldicott said.
"It's not one that gives me any pleasure, but I think that's the way it will pan out."
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian remains staunchly opposed to pill testing, claiming there is no evidence to show it will save people's lives.
Author and drug educator Kerryn Redpath is also against the proposal.
"As a former heroin user, I would have thought it was wonderful, it would validate my drug use and sustain my drug use," she said on Q&A of pill testing.
"More people are overdosing in homes and private places anyway.
"They're not happening at Kings Cross. They're happening in other places anyway."
Former AFP Commissioner Mick Palmer told viewers he wants Australia to follow in the footsteps of other countries which have seen "quite remarkable results" through pill testing.
"We went to Iraq on less evidence than what we've got on pill testing," he said.
"Europe is awash with pill testing now … downturn in deaths coming out of hospitals and hospitalisations.
"Nobody's suggesting that pill testing is a foolproof, can save everybody's life process, but at the moment the reality of the environment is that people are taking pills to drug festivals which are completely unregulated."
According to Mr Palmer, "nobody has any idea of the components of the drug, the toxicity or what they've bought at all".
"Anything we can do to improve that situation, create an environment where there's much more certainty where people can be advised about the dangers of the process and be advised what's in their drugs and why they can rethink what they intended to do," he said.
Earlier on Monday, more than a dozen stakeholders from the music industry called on the NSW Government to halt plans to introduce a new licensing regime for festivals.
Festival organisers and industry stakeholders, including representatives from the cancelled Psyfari and Mountain Sounds festivals, met at state parliament to discuss the proposed licensing scheme due to start next month. They want the new regime delayed until after a coronial inquest into the deaths of five people from suspected drug overdoses at NSW festivals since September.
A consensus statement from the "crisis talks", hosted by NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann and independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, calls on the Government to "go back to the drawing board" and properly consult with festival organisers before developing fresh regulations.
"There has been no public consultation and no genuine engagement with industry on the proposed changes," the statement reads.
"There is widespread confusion about the details and impact of the new regime." Nathaniel Holmes from Architects of Entertainment, whose clients include Laneway Festival, Splendour in the Grass, Mountain Sounds and FOMO, said he didn't have any confidence that the Government would heed the call.
"But we're very interested to see what the next steps will be and hopefully we'll have enough support behind us that they'll actually listen to us," Mr Holmes said.
The statement also backs a petition signed by more than 106,000 people demanding the Government convene a roundtable to review regulation affecting live music, be more transparent on policing and medical bills, and work with the industry to keep festivals safe.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the Government wanted to ensure high-risk festivals where people have died or been seriously injured are complying with the law.
"This is good news for the industry because it means by safeguarding the high- risk ones the industry can thrive and grow into the future," she told reporters on Monday.
In a statement, Psyfari organiser Steve Demian said the proposed regime "almost comes across as a form of punishment for events which don't sit right with certain authorities".
- With AAP