Experts Call for Authoritative Database on Drug Overdoses at Australian Music Festivals

So, would the creation of an authoritative database really cut down on drug overdoses at a music festival?  Or, would it lead to harsher and more restrictive measures against festivalgoers?

Following the deaths of two young adult festivalgoers over the weekend, experts in Australia have called for the creation of a database to prevent more deaths in the country.

But, what happened?

A 23-year-old male and a 21-year-old female festivalgoer overdosed at the Defqon.1 festival held in Sydney.

Hundreds more sought help after consuming drugs.  13 went to the hospital.  3 remain in critical condition.

Authorities later charged 10 people for sneaking drugs into the festival.  A pair of 17-year-old girls reportedly carried 120 MDMA capsules into Defqon.1.  After conducting 355 searches, officers found 69 festivalgoers with illegal substances.  Over 30,000 had attended the EDM festival on Saturday.

A notable Australian politician immediately condemned the news.

In a statement to the Sydney Morning Herald, Gladys Berejiklan, Premier of the Australian state of New South Wales, vowed to shut down Defqon.1.

“This is an unsafe event and I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure it never happens again.

“I don’t want any family to go through the tragedy that some families are waking up to this morning, it’s just horrible to think about.”

In the past 5 years, five people have died of drug overdoses at major music festivals across the country.

Experts warn, however, that simply shutting down music festivals doesn’t actually deal with the drug problem.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics releases data each year showing how many people die from drug-related incidents.  Yet, experts argue the data doesn’t show how many people overdose at large-scale public events.

According to Dr. Alex Wodack, President of the Australian Drug Law Reform, the federal government should create a database to better identify drug overdoses at dance parties, clubs, and music festivals.

Speaking with the Sydney Morning Herald, Wodack explained,

“Australia lacks an authoritative database on deaths from proven drug-use of people attending youth music events.  One of the prices of that lack of robust data is poor policy.  It’s really tragic.  These are healthy young people and these are lives that should never be lost.”

Echoing Dr. Wodack’s argument, Will Tregoning, co-founder of Unharm, a drug law reform agency, also supported the initiative.  He says a database would help authorities track effective government policies, including pill testing at music festivals.

Yet, the government must understand that many more Australians die from legal drugs.  So, shutting down music festivals won’t really solve anything.

“Whatever the number of drug-related deaths at festivals, it’s dwarfed by the total number of deaths related to illegal drug use, which is itself dwarfed by the total number of deaths related to legal drug use.  Most overdose deaths happen at home and involve opiates or benzodiazepines.”

In a statement, “deeply saddened” Defqon.1 organizers lamented the deaths and hospitalizations.

“We are disappointed at the number of reported drug-related incidents.  We have a zero-tolerance policy in relation to drug use at the festival.”

Yet, this problem has happened before at Defqon.1.  Two years ago, a 26-year old man passed away.  So did a 23-year-old in 2013.


Featured image by Global Stomping (CC by 2.0).