Australian-first festival drug testing trial

1 May 2018

Written by: Hannah Matchett

Two deadly substances uncovered in an Australian first festival drug-checking trial.

Groovin the Moo music festival, held in Canberra on Sunday, became the first festival in Australia to offer a free drug testing service for festival goers.

Of the thousands of attendees, 128 opted to use the free drug-checking service offered by the Safety and Testing and Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE).

The trial produced some staggering results, including the identification of two potentially lethal drugs that the owners had believed to be MDMA.

The first was n-ethylpentylone, a stimulant responsible for the hospitalisation of 13 people in New Zealand last month.

The second was identified as NBOMe, a powerful hallucinogen linked to three deaths in Melbourne in 2017.

Both lethal substances were found inside clear capsules and were disposed of immediately.

STA-SAFE member Matt Noffs from Harm Reduction Australia told that the tests produced some surprising results for both officials and festival goers.

“People were surprised with the kind of stuff that we found in the drugs. We had everything from paint to toothpaste. We also found NutraSweet, which is an artificial sweetener, Arnica muscle rub and milk powder,” he said.

Noffs has taken to Twitter to hail Australia’s first pill testing trial as a success.

The testing process takes place in a medical tent outside the festival gates, where festival goers can choose to submit their drugs for sampling by a doctor and a chemist.

A sample of the drugs are taken and analysed to determine exactly what it contains.

The attendees then have their drugs returned to them with the results of their contents, and are left to make an informed decision to either keep them or dispose of them in the ‘amnesty bin’.

Five attendees chose to dispose of the drugs in the bins, while a further 10-20% said they were considering throwing out their drugs after receiving the test results.

Canberra emergency physician and consortium member Dr David Caldicott said that while many of the substances tested were “duds”, there remained many that were potentially very harmful.

Half of tested drug samples had no psychoactive ingredients, but were made of other substances like toothpaste, milk powder, glue, paint and hairspray.

Caldicott said the testing service provided specialists with the opportunity to educate festival goers of the dangers, in particular, of high purity drug use.

“I think many patrons initially thought that a product that contained MDMA of high purity was a success and of course we were able to disabuse them of that because of course the purer an MDMA product is, the more likely you are to overdose on it,” he told The Canberra Times.

Despite reassurances that attendees who chose to have their drugs tested would remain anonymous and not be pursued by police, there were still reservations from many.

“I also had like a risk stigma attached to using it — I thought maybe you would get caught walking out of there or something,” a festival goer told ABC News.

“There needed to be more information about what was happening and how our privacy would be protected,” she said.

Early last week, police assured they will still patrol the festival but will not target the pill testing area.

At this stage there are no plans for pill testing tents at any other Groovin the Moo festivals to be held around the country in the coming weeks.