Young people “laugh” at vague warnings issued by the police or politicians about the dangers of drugs even as five of their peers have died at music festivals in the past five months.

Paul Dillon, the founder of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia, said it was incredibly difficult to change people’s minds about ecstasy.

“If they’re going to nightclubs and they’re going to dance festivals, the reality is that as much as people say that people die, they don’t see anyone dying,” he said. “Everyone around them is having a fantastic time.”

The debate about pill testing at festivals to prevent deaths has turned into an election issue, with NSW deputy premier John Barilaro accusing Labor Leader Michael Daley of being “dangerous and ill-informed” for suggesting NSW explore the measure.

But NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian softened her opposition to pill testing last week, saying she would consider implementing it if her government was shown evidence it saved lives.

Mr Dillon, a drug educator for more than 25 years, said he supported pill testing because it engages users and provided information about the contents of the drug that is tested.

But he said pill testing was not a “silver bullet” to prevent festival deaths. Mr Dillon wrote in 2015 that MDMA (the main ingredient in ecstasy) was not a safe drug, while testing for adulterants would not necessarily have prevented fatalities. But he also said tougher policing and scare tactics did not appear effective either.

Mr Dillon also highlighted an alert issued about “extremely dangerous” orange pills issued to people attending this year’s Falls Festival in Victoria that was not taken seriously by some revellers.

“What’s with the dumb warning?” one young man asked Mr Dillon. “I don’t know anyone who got the text who didn’t laugh at it and delete it almost straight away and that’s not what we should be doing with warnings about drugs.”

The agony of ecstasy

The names ecstasy and MDMA are sometimes used interchangeably, however “ecstasy” may contain no MDMA at all but rather other drugs or toxic adulterants.

Last year’s pill-testing trial at the Groovin the Moo festival in Canberra found some highly toxic chemicals as well as ingredients such as toothpaste and paint in festival-goers’ party drugs.

Will Tregoning, executive director of drug law reform agency Unharm, said there appeared to be an increase in drug deaths at festivals over the past five years based on media reports.

He said there was a “huge proliferation” of new psychoactive substances on the market, and the availability of high-strength MDMA: “Given that drugs sold illegally are typically unlabelled, the risks come from people taking a substance or a dose that they weren’t expecting.”

Many of the recent festival deaths are yet to be examined by a coroner, leaving questions about the actual causes.

– Andrew Taylor & Patrick Begley, The Sydney Morning Herald

Read more: ‘What’s with the Dumb Warning?’: Why Young Drug Users Do not Believe the Agony of Ecstasy

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons