The deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame will recommend pill testing and the abolition of police sniffer dogs and body searches, according to a leaked draft of her final report.
Her recommendations, touted as radical, include a government funded pill testing unit, decriminalising of personal drug use, as well as abolishing sniffer dogs and strip searches.
Grahame has heavily criticised drug searches stating that the Police should be there to support festival goers not cause them ‘potential harm’.
She has called for drug detection dogs to be banned from festivals blaming them for the scenario of ‘preloading’ or ‘double dosing’ whereby the festival goers take their drugs in one go to avoid sniffer dog detection.
Her draft recommendations on dealing with illegal drugs at festivals upend current systems that have been in place for decades.
Ms Grahame made her recommendations after the inquest into the drug related deaths of 6 people at music festivals between December 2017 and January 2019. Alex Ross-King, 19, died at the Fomo music festival; Joseph Pham, 23, and Diana Nguyen, 21 at the Defqon festival in Penrith; Callum Brosnan, 19, died at the Knockout Games of Destiny at Sydney Olympic Park and Josh Tam, 22, died at the Lost Paradise festival on the Central Coast.
Cong Pham, whose son Joseph died at the Defqon festival last year opposes banning drug sniffer dogs and pill testing “Only some people who are very strong minded will come forward for the testing, but the majority will not” Mr Pham said. “In my opinion, they’ve already decided to take it”.
Jennie Ross King, whose daughter Alex, 19, died after taking MDMA plus several alcoholic drinks at the FOMO festival Parramatta said the proposal made sense. “Pill testing is one of many harm reduction strategies that can potentially save lives” she said.
Further recommendation by Coroner Harriet Grahame include High School students being educated about MDMA. This education can including factors such as how the weight of the consumer can affect the outcome of the drug. Other factors such as climate and exercise were also of relevance and ice baths and ice vests were included in the report as suggestions to festival operators. One of the victims registers a temperature of 43 degrees Celcius. Free and ample water coolers and better mobile coverage were also noted as potential life savers.
According to the leaked document, searches of revellers would only be legal if supply was suspected but a police sniffer dog search would be inadequate evidence on which to commence a strip search. Police would have to video themselves giving the person reason for a strip search and a “less invasive alternative” should be considered. Ms Grahame also suggesting influencers in the music scene to be involved in “harm reduction messages”.
The Coroners report asks for cabinet to consider mirroring the Netherlands-based Drug Information and Monitoring System (DIMS). In 2014 the DIMS identified the stimulant PM MA in ‘superman’ pills resulting in zero deaths in the Netherlands from this particular substance. Four lives were lost in the UK due to consumption of the same recipe.
Ms Grahame has also recommended that the Health Department consider the metabolism of MDMA. The consumer may be among the approximate 6-10% of the population that is deficient in the CYP2D6 liver enzyme. This person is referred to as a “poor metaboliser” as their body is unable to break down MDMA (and many other drugs) efficiently, rendering them prone to an overdose and/or hyperthermia (heat stroke).
The amount of drug consumed by victims addressed in the Coroner’s report vary greatly, with Callum Brosnan said to have consumed at least nine MDMA pills over 5 hours, and Diana Nguyen dying after just one pill. Ian Scott of the Princess Alexandra Hospital department of internal medicine and Russ Scott of Queensland prisons forensic psychiatrist have produced a report stating that there was no safe level of MDMA to be consumed after all considerations are taken into account.