This news story was first published in print and online by The Medical Republic on 9th March 2016.
Despite threats from the NSW Premier’s office, staff employed to test drugs at music festivals could not be prosecuted for possession or supply of illicit drugs.
Dr Caldicott, an emergency physician from Canberra and leading proponent of the strategy, said the threats were “frankly hilarious” because all those handling the drugs would be forensic chemists licensed to do so for their work.
In the last year, seven Australians have died from the use of party drugs at music festivals, prompting calls for facilities to be allowed at festivals so that partygoers can have their drugs tested. Being able to inform users of bad batches was an easy way to save lives, he said.
It’s been shown that partygoers are happy to discard drugs if they were shown to contain harmful impurities.
The drug-testing units were the size of a sofa, Dr Caldicott said, and could be set up in a marquee where operators could discuss the test findings with drug users.
NSW Premier Mike Baird has been on the record as ridiculing the drug-testing proposal, and claiming there was no proof it would reduce harm.
“It won’t be happening here in NSW”, he told the ABC.
And Deputy Premier and Minister for Justice and Police, Troy Grant, has gone so far as to publicly suggest operators of such services could even be charged with manslaughter if they had tested drugs that subsequently resulted in a person’s death.
Dr Caldicott said it was not his intention to goad law enforcement with the drug-checking proposal. “We have evolved our approach to this over 10 years so that every single step of the process is compliant with both federal and state law,” he said.
No change was required in the criminal status of recreational drugs for testing to go ahead. All that was needed was a police minister prepared to grant local area commanders discretion, Dr Caldicott said. Such tolerance was already used by police towards users of the injecting room in Kings Cross or those attended by ambulances for overdoses.
Drug-checking also allowed real-time detection of new and potentially dangerous products emerging on the drug market, said Dr Caldicott.
With just two drug-checking machines, his team would be able to collect more data in two months than the sniffer dog program had done “in the entirety of its existence” and at a fraction of the cost.
They were already well on the way to crowdsourcing the $100,000 for each machine, which Dr Caldicott said is half the cost of training a sniffer dog.