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NSW coroner recommends pill testing, scrapping sniffer dogs at festivals

Last month, The NSW deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame’s draft recommendations for the NSW Government’s drug policy leaked, revealing potential safety recommendations regarding drug use and music festivals in New South Wales.

Today, the coroner has officially recommended several major law changes, including that pill testing be conducted in NSW. She also recommended the decriminalisation of personal drug use and the scrapping of sniffer dogs at music festivals.

pill testing

The NSW deputy state coroner has recommended several major law changes, including introducing pill testing and scrapping sniffer dogs at festivals.

The recommendations come after an inquest investigated the drug-related deaths of six young people, aged 18 to 23, at music festivals over the last two years.

Today deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame delivered the findings of the inquest:  “I am in no doubt whatsoever that there is sufficient evidence to support a drug checking trial in NSW,” she said. “In my view, the evidence is compelling.”

“Drug checking is simply an evidence-based harm reduction strategy that should be trialled as soon as possible in NSW,” she said. She also added that high-visibility and excessive policing at festivals had “inherent dangers and few if any benefits”.

She also spoke about how the evidence showed a heavy police presence and drug detection dogs could be intimidating for young people, triggering “panic ingestion” and “dangerous preloading”, which increases the risk of illness or death.

Grahame recommended that NSW Police scrap the use of drug detection dogs at festivals, and also recommended that the use of strip searches should be limited to circumstances where there is a “reasonable suspicion”.

“The evidence arising from this inquest clearly indicates there is much that can be done to prevent MDMA deaths,” said the coroner, adding that “there are practical solutions to some of the issues identified.”‘

Grahame also recommended a drug summit be held to develop an evidence-based drug policy. She said the Government should give “full and genuine consideration” to “decriminalising personal use of drugs, as a mechanism to reduce the harm caused by drug use”.

The recommendations come in stark contrast to the views of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has consistently asserted that harm reduction practices send the “wrong message” to young people, and that they should “just say no” to drugs.

NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay said it was “important” for the Government to consider the coroner’s recommendations and that Labor would trial pill testing if it was in power.

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November 8, 2019