Pill testing is a paradox.
Demanding that authorities provide free pill testing for people who choose to take illicit drugs at music festivals is an inherent contradiction, because the act of taking the drugs is a form of rebellion against authority. Thus, pill poppers are demanding that authorities test their pills so that they can rebel against authority.
Pill taking, and the consumption of illicit drugs, is an act of rebellion. Drug users may argue that they are not deliberately engaged in an act of rebellion, that they’re just trying to have some fun during a concert, but the fact remains that taking drugs which are illegal according to existing Australian laws is an act of rebellion.
Do we have to test pills everywhere?
If pill testing is introduced as standard procedure at large-scale music festivals across New South Wales and the rest of Australia, does it have to be introduced elsewhere? Will pill testing be introduced at nightclubs, at private birthday parties, at beach parties? Illicit pills are consumed in many places, not just at music festivals, so if music festivals are required to provide pill testing, will pill testing have to be available to drug users in other places?
Who pays for pill testing?
If widespread pill testing is introduced at music festivals (and in other places), does the tax payer pay for the provision of medical staff, social workers and other resources? Should taxpayers be forced to foot the bill for an activity which is illegal, and entered into knowingly and voluntarily by the pill taker? If taxpayers are paying for the testing, then we are essentially paying for people to absolve themselves of any responsibility to ensure their own welfare and to take risks without accepting the consequences.
Festival organisers should pay for pill testing.
Let’s face it, people know they can take drugs at a music festival. We know most people go for the entertainment, the socialising, the food, the drink and the general excitement of being surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people enjoying a great day or night out. However, it is also common knowledge that festivals are a great place to acquire, and enjoy, illicit drugs. Festival organisers and promoters profit financially from this accepted truth, and should thus accept the financial burden of providing pill testing if it becomes standard practice.
Unfortunately, organisers are likely to pass on the increased costs by raising ticket prices, and the festival-goers who don’t take drugs will suffer because of other people who require pill testing.
Does it set a precedent?
If a person takes a pill to a testing centre and the pill is found to contain a chemical composition which is dangerous, is the pill then confiscated from the person and disposed of? One imagines the festival-goer is likely to be quite upset at losing their pill, not just because it was purchased to enhance their experience, but also because they had just handed over cash for the pill, as well as paying for the festival ticket and food, and transport…The risk of losing their pill might also deter some people from using the service.
If the person is allowed to keep the pill, even after it is deemed to be harmful, are there legal ramifications if that person takes the pill and suffers adverse side effects? Australia is becoming an increasingly litigious society and it would not be surprising if a drug user attempted to sue the government and/or festival organisers.
Another precedent could also be set.
Pill testing, indirectly, allows people to ‘get away with’ taking drugs. Festival goers will not be punished for possessing illegal substances at festivals, which are always attended by police. If the same person, or another person, is in possession of illicit drugs in another location, such as a nightclub, and is punished at law for possessing illegal drugs, can that person sight the absence of punishment for possession of drugs at the festival as a legal precedent in an attempt to ‘get away with’ breaking the law at a different location?
But I didn’t know drugs were dangerous…
Advocates for pill testing argue that as well as harm minimisation, pill testing centres can also serve as a vehicle for educating people about the dangers of recreational drugs. People know the dangers of drugs. Any Australian under the age of 35 (the vast majority of festival-goers) has already been educated about the dangers of drugs. Most attended high school in Australia within the last 15 years and were provided with drug and alcohol education through subjects such as Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PD/H/PE) or through special drug and alcohol seminars.
Weren’t they listening?
Death is no deterrent
Pill testing is also designed to deter some people from taking harmful drugs. Armed with sufficient information, advocates argue, festival-goers will avoid taking drugs that are identified as dangerous. How can pill testing deter people if death is not deterring them? The deaths of numerous people at festivals during the 2018-19 Australian summer is what ignited the debate over pill testing, yet even these deaths did not serve as a deterrent to pill-takers. So, if death did not stop people from taking pills, how will pill testing?
The real problem with pill testing
The pill testing debate can also be examined more broadly in order to expose another major flaw in Australian society, the expectation that society/the government will protect people from harming themselves.
People popping pills at festivals do so knowingly and voluntarily and thus engage in a deliberate act of risk taking, while at the same time expecting society and the government to remove any potential consequences of their actions.
It is symptomatic of a country which has created an expectation that it is the responsibility of the government to protect all of its citizens from harm, even if that harm was the direct consequence of the deliberate actions of the individual.
Furthermore, not only do many Australians expect to be protected from danger, they expect to be rescued or bailed out when their own actions place them in a complicated or adverse situation.
If you choose to rebel against authority by taking a pill at a music festival, don’t expect the same authority to bail you out.