UPDATE: Dragon Dreaming Festival, drug awareness and harm reduction

Earlier in the week we reported that the Dragon Dreaming festival in New South Wales ended in tragedy when 23-year old Anneke Vo was found dead early on festival grounds Sunday morning. In the days since, police have called for next year’s festival to be cancelled. Now, lawyer and director of not-for-profit drug reform and charity organisation Unharm Will Tregoning has added weight to the argument that increasing police presence at events or banning festivals all together is nothing other than counter productive and dangerous.

In a statement posted to the Unharm website, Tregoning has said that he is disheartened by the police response to the situation. “We need to deal with this issue in an honest and realistic way, rather than pushing it out of sight.” He added that illicit drug use is in no way unique to large scale festivals and events. “More than a million people in NSW use illicit drugs each year… the medical and harm reduction outreach services available at music festivals make them relatively safe places to use illicit drugs. Heavy handed policing just pushes people to use substances in other contexts where these kinds of services are not available.”

With studies finding that the presence of police and sniffer dogs at festivals are not drug deterrents, but rather create situations which encourage young people to undertake risky behaviour such as preloading, which have resulted in a number of deaths at fesativals and events. There are far better ways to ensure that festival goers are safe, espeically if they decide to use drugs while at events. One of those -which is in use in Portugal and the Netherlands- is drug testing. “Drug testing, drug safety reports and support staff to care for patrons are commonplace at the sorts of events. These measures have been shown to be highly effective in reducing drug related harms. By contrast, police operations using drug detection dogs like the one we saw at Dragon Dreaming do not prevent drug use or drug-related harms.”