Police presence at music festivals can lead to ‘panic overdoses’ | Health

Police presence at music festivals is leading some people to a “panic overdose” in their attempt to avoid getting caught, according to an Australian study, experts calling for a change in police culture at festivals.

In the largest survey of its kind, researchers led by St Vincent’s Clinical School at the University of NSW interviewed punters at six major music festivals in NSW between November 2019 and March 2020. The results were released on Friday in the Drug and Alcohol Review.

Participants completed an anonymous survey about their planned drug use and higher risk behaviors, such as taking all of their drugs before entering the festival (called “preloading”), consuming two or more doses of MDMA at the time. times (known as “double fall”), higher risk alcohol consumption by consuming at least 11 standard drinks in addition to illicit drug use and mixing stimulants.

They were also asked if the presence of police and police dogs had an effect on their decision to use drugs.

Of the 1,229 survey participants, 372 (or 30%) intended to use drugs or reported having used drugs that day. MDMA was the most frequently reported drug, 77% of those who reported using the drug said they had used it that day or intended to do so. Other frequently reported drugs include cocaine, cannabis, LSD / acid, and ketamine.

Regarding high-risk behaviors, of the 286 people using MDMA, 48% said they had given up. The differences between the sexes were significant, with men more than twice as likely to double as women. Eighty-two (22%) of participants who answered “yes” to drug use also reported high risk alcohol use.

Researchers found a significant correlation between fear of the police and drug pre-loading. People who said the presence of the police influenced their decision to use drugs were more than twice as likely to say they preloaded.

“This study reinforces existing concerns about the unintended negative consequences of policing drug use at festivals,” the study found.

Study author and senior researcher at the University of NSW, Dr Jonathan Brett, said: “There is a growing body of evidence now in Australia that the presence of police and police dogs and strategies for Safety at festivals are in fact potentially very harmful. “

In 2019, the NSW Deputy Coroner found that high-visibility police tactics such as drug dogs and strip searches at music festivals increased the risks associated with drugs.

“I really hope we can have a conversation, not about removing the police altogether, but potentially about a different approach to policing strategies that isn’t just about criminalizing drug users. Everyone wants people to be safer and healthier, so we need to discuss how best to achieve this. “

No drug-related deaths were recorded at any of the six festivals, although several participants had to be rushed to hospital. Brett said the police presence was found, through his study as well as previous studies, to make people reluctant to seek medical help.

The researchers concluded that in addition to a modified approach to policing, more targeted education to prevent risky behaviors such as substance mixing is needed, as well as a wider uptake of pill testing. None of the festivals included in the study had pill testing sites.

A senior lecturer in drug addiction at Edith Cowan University, Dr Stephen Bright, said not all police services are created equal. He has conducted drug research at festivals in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales and said there are differences in policing approaches between states.

“In Western Australia the culture seems to be much more of community policing, where they turn a blind eye to trivial substance use and, essentially, their main focus is to make sure everyone is safe.” , did he declare.

“In doing so, I have the impression that at a festival in Western Australia, people are more likely to approach not only the police, but also other support services that are on site, because there is no fear of getting into trouble. They know the police are there to help them. They are not there to pursue them.


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