The Australian Festival Association call on state politicians to prevent drug-related deaths

The Australian Festival Association (AFA) have written an impassioned letter as a call-to-action for government officials following a series of drug-related deaths at Australian festivals this summer.

Their main focus is on preventive and harm minimisation strategies, not exclusively, but including, pill testing.

Photo Credit: Sky News

The AFA, a cohort of Australia’s most widely-loved and most powerful festivals, have thrown their voice into the minimisation of drug-related deaths at music events.

The AFA lists a number of specific moves for federal and state government bodies. These include:

  • “Establish on-going state-based Music Festival Regulation Roundtables” – this means ongoing collaboration between regulators, medical experts, promoters, emergency service providers and law enforcement
  • “Appoint AFA members to Regulation Roundtables across the states and territories” – due to significant experience and expertise on the scene
  • “Develop pill-testing trials” – with industry experts
  • “Commission further research into recreational drug use” – including an evidence based approach to drug regulation
  • “Collaborate to convene a national drug summit”

Here is part of the letter.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the deaths at Australian festivals during the recent holiday period and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Our thoughts are also with the medical, festival, production, security and law enforcement staff who were on the ground when these tragedies occurred.

Drug use is a complex issue and the current policies and strategies of our state and territory governments are needlessly endangering lives. Be it abuse of prescription medications, MDMA use at festivals or the devastating impact of ice on some of our regional communities, drug use is a national health issue that impacts many Australian families.

We need to better understand drug use behaviour, identify significant intervention points, better coordinate between regulators, health, police, businesses and broader communities, and make sure that the health and safety of Australians is the ultimate priority.

As festival promoters, the last thing we want is someone to be hurt under our care. We need to be able to legally implement preventative strategies, not just reactive ones, and include any harm minimization tools that are available.

We believe, and have evidence to support, that a combination of robust harm minimization strategies will help Australians make safer choices and reduce the harmful impacts of drug use on festival-goers and the broader community.

This necessarily involves a collaborative, multi-layered approach of drug education, peer-to-peer support, pill-testing, health services and policing.”

The AFA also said, “We do not believe that pill-testing is the only answer. But it is a crucial part of a broader harm reduction strategy that prioritises people’s health and safety, over criminality or laws.”

They go on to discourage drug abstinence as a potential solution, calling it “out of touch”.

Following the recent drug-related festival deaths, NSW State leaders spoke out about pill testing at festivals. In early January, NSW opposition leader Michael Daley offered that pill testing “should not be off the table”.

Following Daley’s statement Gladys Berejiklian, previously opposed to pill-testing, said, “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.” 

The AFA calls out state leaders – Premier Berejiklian, Premier Andrews, Premier Marshall, Premier McGowan, Premier Palaszczuk, Premier Hodgman, Chief Minister Gunner and Chief Minister Barr – and implores them to take these recommendations and pleas seriously.