The NSW deputy coroner, Harriet Grahame, has today released the findings of the inquest into drug-related deaths at music festivals. The inquest came after six MDMA-related deaths at NSW music festivals between December 2017 and January 2019.
The coroner has found the use of high-visibility policing tactics, such as drug dogs and stripsearching at music festivals, “increases rather than decreases” the risks associated with drugs. In the findings Grahame recommended the introduction of pill testing and found the use of “intense and punitive drug policing operations” actually increased drug-related risks and harm.
“At the end of my reflection I am in no doubt whatsoever there is sufficient evidence to support a drug-checking trial in this state,” she said.
Grahame also found that drug dogs have the “capacity to cause harm without strong evidence it is effective in reducing overall drug supply”. She also said that stripsearching young people is of “grave concern” and using it in an attempt to catch people with drugs on them is not the purpose of the relevant legislation. Grahame suggested stripsearches only be used on those suspected of supply, and that the government should pay to establish a permanent drug-checking facility outside of festivals.
While she recommended the introduction of testing drugs, Grahame acknowledged it would not guarantee further deaths would be avoided. “Drug checking is simply an evidence-based harm-reduction strategy that should be trialled as soon as possible in NSW.”
The majority of Grahame’s findings were leaked to the Daily Telegraph in October. At that time NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian reinforced the government’s stance on pill testing, saying it would “give people a false sense of security”. Grahame called on the government to look at the drug-related issues with “fresh eyes” and a more evidence-based approach.
The findings come after the Berejiklian government attempted to enforce harsh licensing laws that sparked protests and the cancellation of a number of music festivals. Others, including Bluesfest, threatened to leave the state. The laws were scrapped in September after the New South Wales Legislative Council voted to drop them following a parliamentary inquiry finding them inadequate and detrimental to the industry.
This week, the Guardian reported the NSW police has stripsearched more than 100 girls in the past three years, including two 12-year-olds and eight 13-year-olds.
Grahame’s findings took in peer-reviewed evidence and testimony from the parents of the victims of the MDMA-related deaths, police, emergency services and drug experts.