The comments follow recent testing of 85 substances at the national Groovin’ the Moo music festival, which was an Australian first.
“These encounters allow health experts to pass on vital information about what is contained in the drug and the possible risk to health and wellbeing, giving young people a chance to make a more informed choice about their own actions,” says Newcastle University Professor Alison Hutton, who is also is a member of the Torrens Resilience Institute and WHO Collaborating Centre at Flinders University in Adelaide.
“In the past, tragic events have shown that young people who attend outdoor music festivals do not always have their own health and safety at the forefront of this experience,” she says.
“Harm minimisation can pave the way for strategies that lead to a safer, more supportive environment, reducing drug-related harm.”
Highlighting Australian successes in providing safer conditions and support services for teenagers at end-of-year Schoolies’ festivals, Professor Hutton says harm minimisation strategies complement the Federal Government’s new national drug and alcohol plan, shifting the focus from policing to prevention.
“Instead of driving discussions about illicit drug-taking underground, harm minimisation strategies create an avenue to start a conversation with young people about what they are taking and why,” Professor Hutton says.
“We should look to harm minimisation and provide an environment and practices that support young people should they need to withdraw from or avoid risky or harmful situations.
Recent findings published by Canadian health service ANKORS suggests pill testing contributes to youth changing their attitudes and behaviour toward illicit drug use during festivals. In 2013, ANKORS surveyed 182 festival goers about their services with the majority (76.9%) using the pill-testing service.
The results of each different pill tested were displayed on a white board so that information could be safely shared with others.
People were asked what they would do when they found out information about the drug and, of the 42 responses, half said that they would get rid of the drug while another 17 said they would give it back.
“While this is an isolated instance, it is worth noting this is one example of an innovative approach which seems to have been successful, although it is very challenging to implement and there is a need for more extensive evidence of the success of such an approach,” says Professor Hutton.
With the increasing popularity of mass gathering events in Australia, outdoor music festival environments are becoming a prominent public health issue.
Professor Hutton says health promotion can pave the way for the development of strategies that can lead to a safer and more supportive environment in which drug-related harm for young people is minimised.
“Handled well, such measures could be more effective than zero tolerance and conventional hard-line approaches to illicit drug-taking,” says Professor Hutton, who supervises postgraduate students at the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Flinders University.