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Victorian mother says pill testing needed as ‘safety net’ at music festivals

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Adriana Buccianti is still haunted by memories of the January morning the police knocked at her door with news her son had died.

It was 8.30am and she was babysitting her granddaughter when officers arrived with news that Daniel had been found after taking a drug at a festival.

“It’s like you’re having this out-of-body experience, you’re watching your body walk around really slow. My mind was going really fast but my body wouldn’t move. I do remember screaming and my neighbour next door came in,” she said.


“I’ve never experienced anything so horrific in my life. Your kids are not supposed to go before you.”

Her 34-year-old son’s body had been found in his tent after his drug overdose at the Rainbow Serpent festival in western Victoria in 2012.

“He never imagined that he would have taken something that he’d never taken before, so if the [pill-testing] service was available he would have used it,” Buccianti said. “Nobody wants to come out of there in a body bag.”

Buccianti said pill testing would provide a safety net to help protect youngsters “from themselves”.

“How many body counts do they want before somebody does something about it?” she said.

Her campaign to ensure other parents don’t have to go through the same despair appears to be falling on deaf ears with politicians.

The Victorian mental health minister, Martin Foley, said the government had no plans to allow pill testing as the state reeled from another death.

A 20-year-old Victorian man died in hospital on Tuesday, days after suffering a suspected drug overdose at the Beyond the Valley festival south-east of Melbourne.

Victorian police said six people had been arrested for drug trafficking and 26 had received a caution and drug diversion notice during the four-day event.

Foley said Victoria police had advised that pill testing could give people “a false, and potentially fatal, sense of security about illicit drugs”.

A 20-year-old man died on New Year’s Day, days after suffering a drug overdose at the Beyond the Valley music festival.

A 20-year-old man died on New Year’s Day, days after suffering a drug overdose at the Beyond the Valley music festival. Photograph: artiieeec

Earlier this week, organisers of the Falls festival sent out a warning to ticket holders of a “dangerous orange pill” in circulation, following the suspected drug death of a 22-year-old man on the New South Wales central coast.

NSW police on Wednesday charged six people with drug supply offences after they were allegedly caught carrying illicit drugs, including MDMA and ketamine, at a music festival in Sydney’s Domain.

The ACT emergency department doctor David Caldicott is adamant a new approach is needed and overdoses need to be treated as a public health issue.

For hospitals and paramedics all over the country, the summer music festival calendar has the same sense of inevitability and dread as bushfire season, Caldicott said.

“There is no part of the emergency medical response that wouldn’t be delighted to never have to deal with this ever again,” Caldicott said.

Often unconscious patients have no identification and hospital staff have to try to unlock mobile phones with fingerprints to find a next of kin.

“That never becomes easy, it’s one of the worst aspects of the jobs – contacting parents about severe harm that’s happened to their children which up until that point they were blissfully unaware of,” he said.

He said 12 to 15 years ago doctors knew what people were overdosing on because there weren’t as many options. But these days they are flying blind.

The executive director of Unharm, Will Tregoning, is optimistic momentum for pill testing is building and it will be harder and harder for authorities to continue to drag their heels.

“Martin Foley’s comment was essentially a go-away-I’m-on-holidays-type comment. I am not unhopeful about this current Victorian Labor government being able to see the benefits,” he said.

Pill testing is likely to become a NSW election issue, with the state’s opposition opening the door to supporting the measure.

Late last year the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, ruled out introducing pill testing after a 19-year-old’s death at dance party at Sydney Olympic Park. But on Wednesday she appeared to soften her stance and said she would consider it if her government was shown evidence it saved lives.

“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,” Berejiklian told reporters.

The ACT last year became the first jurisdiction to trial pill testing at the Groovin the Moo festival and organisers said it was a huge success and should be rolled out nationally.

While the Australian Bureau of Statistics counts drug-related deaths, it does not give a breakdown on those that happen at music festivals. Some medical professionals estimate there could be three deaths a year on average.

An ABC Triple J survey of 11,000 young people found 83% would use pill testing if it was available and and 55% have taken drugs into a festival.

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