Australia gathers data about testing drugs at music festivals

Mar 23, 2021

According to a new research study carried out by researchers at Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia, pill-testing services at Western Australian (WA) music festivals do not increase the likelihood of festival-goers taking drugs. The results of the study, published in Drug and Alcohol Review, demonstrate that the availability of pill testing services would not change festival participants’ intention to take ecstasy if they had not used the drug before, contrary to the common argument used by opponents of pill testing services.

In addition, the study also found that individuals who planned to take ecstasy at the festival reported they would not consume more drugs if a pill testing service were available at the festival.

The study surveyed 247 people at a WA music festival on whether having access to an on-site drug testing service would give them the ‘green light’ to use ecstasy. The results revealed there was no change in participants’ intention to use ecstasy, whether they had used it before or not, in three hypothetical scenarios linked to pill-testing services being available or not at a music festival.

Dr. Stephen Bright, lead researcher from ECU, said there have only been two trials of pill testing at music festivals in Australia so far and while the results of this survey were positive, more research is needed before these services become available in Western Australia.

“Our study showed the biggest influence on a person’s intention to use a pill testing service at a festival was how it was viewed among their friendship group,” Dr. Bright said. Moreover, he expressed concern that unlike other Australian states, WA did not have peer-based harm reduction groups that could positively influence attitudes towards pill testing and other harm reduction measures. “It would be a shame to trial pill testing in WA and not have anybody use it,” he said.

In addition, Dr. Bright has been urging the WA government to fund similar services to those funded in other states.

In Australia, pill testing has been promoted as a harm reduction strategy for drug use among young people at music festivals for over a decade and has been trialed twice at festivals in recent years.

Furthermore, The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is planning to put out a fixed site service where people will be able to get their drugs checked during business hours.

Dr. Bright’s research found that when participants were asked whether they would use a similar service in Northbridge, unlike the on-site pill testing services at the festival, survey participants reported they did not care as much about what their friends thought.

“A fixed site drug checking service might be more successful here until we have peer-based harm reduction services funded by the WA government,” said Dr. Bright.

Previous research from ECU has found that pill-testing services at music festivals could be the most effective method of reducing harm for first-time ecstasy users.