Study finds drug-checking services could reduce festival deaths

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Australia’s first national study into drug-related deaths at music festivals has revealed that most incidents are related to young people and the use of MDMA mixed with other substances, including alcohol, and that more stringent drug-checking services could help prevent these deaths.

The study was undertaken by Monash University associate professor Jennifer Schumann and published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Drug use at music festivals is a lot higher than within the general population according to the report. A recent survey of 2,305 participants across 23 festivals in the Australian state of Victoria reported that almost half (48%) had recently used drugs, and 24% intended to take drugs at the next event.

The study looked at drug-related deaths at music festivals throughout Australia between July 1 2000 (Queensland from January 1, 2000) and December 31, 2019, using the National Coronial Information System.

During this period, there were 64 deaths, with 73.4% identified as males aged in their mid-20s, though it ranged between 15 and 50 years old.

Drug toxicity was the most common primary cause of death (46.9%) followed by external injuries in the setting of drug use (37.5%).

The study found that the deaths were often unintentional and could potentially be prevented through the implementation of hard reduction strategies like drug-checking services.

The authors, who also include colleagues at the University of Melbourne and ANU, state that while law enforcement-centred strategies intended to deter drug use and supply at these mass gatherings have been implemented throughout Australia, “many have been criticised for their lack of effectiveness, with evidence suggesting that they can inadvertently increase the risk of drug harm,” associate professor Schumann said.

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