National | Drugs

What's really in that pill? The festival drug testing debate

Crowds enjoying a music festival (File).

With festival season in full swing, the debate around providing free drug testing for festival-goers is again in the spotlight.

Police Minister Stuart Nash says he wants drug-testing kits at all music festivals by next summer.

In comments to Mike Hosking, Nash says, “I'm all for drug testing at music festivals. We could bury our head in the sand and say, 'young people don't take drugs at festivals' but we know that's not true.

"We have had five young people die in Australia, five people taking drugs that they didn't know what was in them, my view is, let's deal with the 21st-century reality."

Dr Benedikt Fischer, Hugh Green Foundation Chair in Addiction Research, also cautiously supports the concept.

"Drug testing services can be a useful complementary measure to reduce risks associated with drug use related harms such as overdose or use of contaminated/excessively harmful drugs - including at music festival or other larger social fun gatherings.

"These interventions, however, in no way, are a ‘perfect’ or solely sufficient intervention for these purposes, and come with a variety of limitations, including possible false senses of safety.”

However, according to Nash, drug hospitalisations dropped by 95 per cent after drug testing was provided at some Australian music festivals.

KnowYourStuffNZ is a volunteer organisation which works with the New Zealand Drug Foundation to provide "drug related harm reduction services at events around New Zealand, including drug checking, free of charge".

Dr Jez Weston, deputy manager at KnowYourStuffNZ, says, “There is good evidence that drug checking reduces the harm from drugs. It also reduces the use of drugs, with festival attendees willingly disposing of particularly harmful drugs.”