STUPIDITY is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
More deaths of more young people at more music festivals is a relentless and tortuous form of déjà vu.
And what does this state government do? A wagging finger and a seven-second sound bite barking there will be no apology for tougher measures on evil drug dealers. No admission of policy failure. No change to an approach that ensures harm-reduction – informed by experts – will now be the key component of an overall illicit drug strategy.
Even the combined voice of the Australian Medical Association, the NSW Deputy State coroner, researchers and ex-top cops can’t budge the double-downing determination of Premier Gladys Berejiklian and a cheer squad of shock jocks when it comes to admitting the abject and ongoing failure of little other than a law-and-order approach to illicit drugs. And as soon as greater emphasis on harm reduction is argued as necessary, there’s an attack on advocates naively green-lighting drug use.
Newsflash. Drugs are here to stay.
But expanded investment in drug treatment, harm reduction and social reintegration of people who have addictions doesn’t get the same number of seats that the business-as-usual brigade seem to have permanently reserved at the drug policy table. Policy reformation doesn’t make for an interesting television news grab – whereas police sitting in front of another trophy haul of whatever – is the money shot that draws the applause of the one trick ponies.
But such hauls only slow a flow, they never stop the flow. The law-and-order emphasis ensures the massive profits relating to production, importation and distribution remain a magnet to those looking for a quick buck. Those profits can finance terrorism and provide corruption opportunities at every level of law enforcement.
And while thumbs twiddle, another other two young people are dead.
Just over a week ago, Diane Nguyen, 21, and Sydney man Joseph Pham, 23, collapsed at the Defqon.1 music festival and later died in hospital. Police said 13 other festival attendees presented at Nepean Hospital for treatment for drug-related issues, while as many as 700 people reportedly sought help from on-site medical staff on the Saturday night.
Abstinence education about drugs is an abject failure. Pushing the “just say no” argument is ignored. More police with more dogs and more powers and fewer music festivals won’t stop young Aussies from taking drugs.
Even former Australian Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg tweeted last week “Prohibition has never worked. It will never work…. educate sure, but don’t prohibit.”
And in the Hunter, despite saturation warnings from police that they will target drug possession at music festivals, significant numbers of drug related arrests continue to be racked up.
Groovin’ the Moo at Maitland Showground last April saw 40 arrests during a drug detection operation. Last November, there were around two dozen arrests for drug possession at the This That festival at Wickham Park. At both these festivals, senior police commented that the crowds were generally well-behaved – despite the drug arrests.
Last October, Newcastle police issued a public warning against taking illicit drugs in the lead up to local music festivals, just as they will be likely to do any day now with the outdoor concert season about to get underway.
The warning will likely include advice about drugs being made by criminals in backyard labs and sold as a particular substance when they could actually be something else.
The police may then advise that users cannot know what it is in the pill or what it may or may not contain. The warning will continue that users will never know how their body may react with any illicit substance, regardless of whether the user has or has not previously consumed illicit substances.
At Canberra’s Groovin the Moo festival last April, pill-testing was offered. That’s a big change in approach. Police worked with health authorities and government and determined they would not target the pill-testing area, just as police in New South Wales do not target the medically supervised injecting centre in Kings Cross.
Where is the consistency in offering an injecting centre in Kings Cross but not pill-testing at music festivals?
Will a strategic approach of harm minimisation absolutely stop the number of deaths from drug consumption? No. Might it reduce the number of deaths. Yes. Isn’t that enough of a reason to try a different approach to drug use?
No doubt the Canberra pill-trial wasn’t perfect. But it demonstrated a willingness to admit prohibition is a failure.
And there was one other outcome.
No young people died.