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Controversial pill testing at Groovin the Moo festival potentially saved SEVEN lives

Seven young revellers would likely have died at a music festival in Canberra due to the fact their MDMA capsules were laced with a deadly toxin that has already claimed other young lives.

Instead they kept dancing to their favourite beats alongside their friends and thousands of others, sober but alive, with their drugs are lying in an amnesty bin.

Their lives were potentially saved by a controversial pill-testing service operating for its second year at the Groovin the Moo festival – the only example of the practice allowed in Australia.

Seven young revellers could have died at a music festival in Canberra because their MDMA capsules were laced with a deadly toxin that has already claimed other young lives (pictured: a Groovin the Moo attendee’s drug capsules before being tested)

Just over the border in NSW, the state government has stubbornly refused to allow a similar program even as five young people – some just teenagers – died from ingesting tainted drugs at festivals over the summer.

Instead, dozens of police with sniffer dogs patrol festivals, search everyone who enters, and arrest and charge anyone carrying even a single pill – which pill-testing advocates say just increases risks.

Inside the nondescript medical tent – which had long lines even though it can’t be advertised – doctors, chemists and counsellors tested the contents of their pills.

Revellers were at no point told their drugs were safe to take - they never are - but the pills, capsules, and powders were grouped into three categories - red, yellow, and white

Revellers were at no point told their drugs were safe to take – they never are – but the pills, capsules, and powders were grouped into three categories – red, yellow, and white

A red result meant the drug contained potentially deadly additives such as n-ethyl pentylone - which was present in seven samples at Sunday's festival by mid-afternoon

A red result meant the drug contained potentially deadly additives such as n-ethyl pentylone – which was present in seven samples at Sunday’s festival by mid-afternoon

Revellers were at no point told their drugs were safe to take, but the pills, capsules, and powders were grouped into three categories – red, yellow, and white.

Yellow indicates the drug is not what the patron thought it was, while white means the drug was accurately described by the patron on arrival.

A red result meant the drug contained potentially deadly additives such as n-ethyl pentylone – a stimulant which was present in seven samples at Sunday’s festival by mid-afternoon.

N-ethyl pentylone looks like MDMA but is three times more potent and can result in convulsions, paranoia and death.

Last year there were two samples marked red and other drugs were found to contain paint, toothpaste, a muscle rub, and other strange substances used to cut them.

In last year’s trial, 18 per cent of participants said they would not use their drugs after receiving the results of their test.

Another 12 per cent said they would consume less of the drug, and five per cent opted to consume a different drug instead after hearing their results.

Organisers said 128 people passed through the tent last year with 85 samples tested, and that number was already surpassed by mid-afternoon this year.

Yellow indicates the drug is not what the patron thought it was, while white means the drug was accurately described by the patron on arrival

Yellow indicates the drug is not what the patron thought it was, while white means the drug was accurately described by the patron on arrival 

While waiting for their products to be tested, multiple festival goers told Daily Mail Australia that the service made them feel safer than at other festivals.  

One of those festival-goers, Jordie, 21, wore a jacket with the words ‘pill testing saves lives’ on the back.

She said her only concern with the current set-up at Groovin the Moo is the likelihood of getting caught once leaving the testing tent, which turned her off using it. 

She told Daily Mail Australia that the festival scene around Australia needs to follow Canberra’s lead and introduce pill testing. 

Attendees also sign a waiver, which essentially signs away any rights should they choose to take the substance after learning what is in it

Attendees also sign a waiver, which essentially signs away any rights should they choose to take the substance after learning what is in it

Pills Jordie and her friends had purchased thinking they were MDMA actually turned out to contain methamphetamine.

They threw them out without a moment’s hesitation, and say they’re grateful they had the option to check what they were consuming. 

‘My friends and I without a doubt would throw them out if the experts told us they weren’t what we thought,’ she said.  

Patrons are given a unique number and told to hold onto it in case they overdose. First responders can then call the pill testers and ask what drug the patient took so they treat them accordingly

Patrons are given a unique number and told to hold onto it in case they overdose. First responders can then call the pill testers and ask what drug the patient took so they treat them accordingly 

n-ethyl pentylone

–  N-ethyl pentylone was found in seven drug samples at GTM on Sunday

– The drug may cause convulsions, paranoia and may result in death

– It emerged around 2016 in the United States 

– It’s been linked to a number of overdose deaths and mass-casualty incidents all over the world

– It’s part of the ‘bath salts’ (cathinone) family of stimulants

–  The prevalence of the new drug in Australia is unknown outside of drug testing services at festivals

– It’s been known as a phenomenon known as ‘mass casualty overdoses’, where 10-20 people drop simultaneously 

– It’s often sold as a white or coloured powder and looks just like MDMA but can be three times more potent

‘We haven’t seen anyone passed out or unwell and nobody has died, so that goes to show how much pill testing helps. We all just feel safer and can enjoy ourselves more’.  

Jordie said the biggest concern for most young people at festivals is the fear of being caught, saying more festival goers are inclined to take all their drugs at once when they see such a significant police presence.

But their bodies can’t cope with the high quantities being taken at once and often there are casualties. 

Jordie’s friend, Ellie, agreed. ‘The cops can be so harsh here. It’d be better for the government to just let it be safe,’ she said.

‘But Groovin the Moo is definitely a step in the right direction. You’ve got FOMO and Rabbits Eat Lettuce where it’s not legal, and pills aren’t being tested, and look what happened there.’

At last year’s Groovin the Moo, one of Ellie’s friends got their pills tested and found out it was made up almost completely of bleach. 

‘They obviously threw it out when they found out, but my friends and I definitely feel safer coming here where we know that option is available,’ Ellie said. 

‘It’s just about giving people the opportunity to make a smarter decision. Everyone is doing drugs anyway.’   

 

In last year's pill testing trial, 18 per cent of participants said they would not use their drugs after receiving the results of their test, while another 12 per cent said they would consume less, and five per cent opted to consume a different drug instead after hearing their results

In last year’s pill testing trial, 18 per cent of participants said they would not use their drugs after receiving the results of their test, while another 12 per cent said they would consume less, and five per cent opted to consume a different drug instead after hearing their results

Organisers said 128 people passed through the tent last year with 85 samples tested, and that number was already surpassed by mid-afternoon this time

Organisers said 128 people passed through the tent last year with 85 samples tested, and that number was already surpassed by mid-afternoon this time

Other attendees were quick to agree, saying the pill testing option made them feel safer in knowing what they were consuming 

Max and his girlfriend, Isobel, are from Kuringai in Sydney’s North, but said they’d travelled the extra distance to attend Canberra’s festival over Groovin the Moo in Maitland. 

‘I would take them at other festivals, too, but the option to get them tested, you know, it makes you feel a bit more secure,’ Max said. 

‘Like if I found out my MDMA was actually meth, I’d put it in the bin, 100%,’   

While the Groovin The Moo festival in no way promotes the use of illicit substances, a statement from the organisers say they support harm reduction procedures and the safety of patrons

While the Groovin The Moo festival in no way promotes the use of illicit substances, a statement from the organisers say they support harm reduction procedures and the safety of patrons

Chloe, who had recently taken MDMA on Sunday night, said she wouldn’t ignore pill-testing results, but said she’s skeptical of the process. 

‘If they said it could kill me, yeah I wouldn’t take it but I’d be like skeptical they were not just saying that to everyone.’ 

Chloe said she probably wouldn’t have as much fun without taking drugs, and says it’s more convenient than drinking.

‘Have you seen the line up for drinks? No thank you, I have Billie Eilish to see.’

At the pill testing tent, pills, capsules, and powders were grouped into three categories - red, yellow, and white. Yellow indicates the drug is not what the patron thought it was, while white means the drug was accurately described by the patron, and red meant the drug contained potentially deadly additives

At the pill testing tent, pills, capsules, and powders were grouped into three categories – red, yellow, and white. Yellow indicates the drug is not what the patron thought it was, while white means the drug was accurately described by the patron, and red meant the drug contained potentially deadly additives

The 21-year-old from Sydney said she managed to get her drugs into the festival by hiding them inside a chapstick. 

Sophie, 19, was much more conspicuous about taking her drugs into the festival, simply putting them in her bag.

‘I literally just left them in my bags, there was no tricks, they didn’t check very well. It’s not that scary as long as you’re not suss,’ she said. 

Peter, 24, said one of the reasons he brought ketamine into Groovin the Moo was so he wouldn’t sober up in the long lines to purchase alcohol. 

‘Just here for a good time, I don’t want to waste an alcohol buzz lining up for more alcohol,’ he said. 

In another part of the festival volunteers working in Red Frogs tent support revellers  who have overdosed or become too intoxicated.

The Red Frog volunteer tents have had a steady stream of revellers come through their doors to take a break from dancing

The Red Frog volunteer tents have had a steady stream of revellers come through their doors to take a break from dancing

While the Groovin The Moo festival in no way promotes the use of illicit substances, a statement from the organisers say they support harm reduction procedures and the safety of patrons.

Drugs are illegal in Canberra, and officers are heavily policing the event but police have agreed not to target the area near the pill testing tent in order to support the trial.  

The process itself is kept under lock and key.

It is run by a host of different drug and harm reduction groups, including DanceWize – a group that often shares insights online regarding cautious drug taking practices and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).

Upon entrance into the tent itself, patrons are required to hand over their phones, or any potential recording or imaging device.

They also sign a waiver, which essentially signs away any rights should they choose to take the substance after learning what is in it.

As day turned to night, more people turned to the Redfrogs tents volunteers for support and to keep them out of the cold

As day turned to night, more people turned to the Redfrogs tents volunteers for support and to keep them out of the cold

The festival and the organisers weren’t inclined to share any further details with the media, and Canberra’s laws state it is illegal to record any medical procedures, so undercover cameras were ruled out as well.

Once in the tent and safely away from prying eyes, the volunteer asks some standardised questions including, ‘what do you suspect the drug is? Who did you get it from (a friend, coworker, dealer etc.)? Do you normally take illicit drugs?’

Festivalgoers then surrender their pill or substances, in which a small sample is scraped off and placed through a sophisticated infrared machine, which can identify substances from a range of previous samples.

Testers then distribute a card with a unique identifier on it.

While there is no requirement to keep it, it is recommended as it essentially makes sure emergency medical staff can contact the tent if a person has overdosed.  

Knowing what a person has ingested saves time and can be the difference between life and death. 

With two tents located on opposite ends of the festival and situated conveniently next to medical tents, the volunteers have provided tired and intoxicated revellers much needed water, sunscreen and sugar hits throughout the day

With two tents located on opposite ends of the festival and situated conveniently next to medical tents, the volunteers have provided tired and intoxicated revellers much needed water, sunscreen and sugar hits throughout the day

The Red Frog tents had a steady stream of revellers come through their doors to take a break from dancing.

With two tents located on opposite ends of the festival and situated conveniently next to medical tents, the volunteers have provided tired and intoxicated revellers much needed water, sunscreen and sugar hits throughout the day.

As day turned to night, more people turned to the tents volunteers for support and to keep them out of the cold.

Revellers were seen crowing around heaters and curling up on each other’s laps.

Others were comforted by friends while clutching spew bags and wrapping themselves in tin foil for warmth.

Police have confirmed they will not be targeting patrons heading in or out of the pill testing tent.

‘While our message first and foremost is not to take illicit substances at all, ACT Policing is committed to harm minimisation initiatives such as pill testing and we are actively engaged with the ACT government and other stakeholders,’ an ACT spokesman said.

Police also warned patrons that despite pill testing, drug possession was still a crime: 'If you are caught by police this weekend in the possession of illicit drugs you can expect to face consequences,' an ACT police spokesman said

Police also warned patrons that despite pill testing, drug possession was still a crime: ‘If you are caught by police this weekend in the possession of illicit drugs you can expect to face consequences,’ an ACT police spokesman said

Police are urging all festival goers to think of their safety and that of their friends, and warn revelers to be wary of any drug they take – whether it’s been tested or not.   

‘Despite having information on what a drug may contain, it is still unsafe to take any illicit drug as you do not know the effect it will have on your body or how you will react to it.’

Police also warned patrons that despite pill testing, drug possession was still a crime.

‘If you are caught by police this weekend in the possession of illicit drugs you can expect to face consequences,’ the spokesman said.

‘The penalties for drug possession vary, but as an example if you possess 25 grams of cannabis or less you could receive a $100 fine or if you possess a prohibited substance such as one or two MDMA tablets you could be fined a maximum of $8000 or imprisoned for a maximum of two years.’ 

Police have confirmed they will not be targeting patrons heading in or out of the pill testing tent, and are urging all festival goers to think of their safety and that of their friends, and warn revelers to be wary of any drug they take - whether it's been tested or not

Police have confirmed they will not be targeting patrons heading in or out of the pill testing tent, and are urging all festival goers to think of their safety and that of their friends, and warn revelers to be wary of any drug they take – whether it’s been tested or not

Pill Testing Australia spokesman Gino Vumbaca stressed that illicit drugs were not permitted at the event – or to be in possession of anywhere in the ACT or Australia.  

‘But if they are brought in and going to be consumed then we recommend that you talk to our team first to know exactly what you may take and what the potential consequences are,’ Mr Vumbaca said.

Mr Vumbaca said that police have respected that the pill testing tent is part of the medical services area of the festival, and that confidentiality is required.  

Despite being a service within the festival – with the permission of the promoters and the ACT government – pill testing tents aren’t part of the festival or the state government.   

‘We are an independent, not-for-profit, self-funded service committed to providing the best public health services for communities.’

Dozens of police with sniffer dogs and security guards patrol festivals, search everyone who enters, and arrest and charge anyone carrying even a single pill - which pill-testing advocates say just increases risks

Dozens of police with sniffer dogs and security guards patrol festivals, search everyone who enters, and arrest and charge anyone carrying even a single pill – which pill-testing advocates say just increases risks

 

 

 

 

 

  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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