Dogs at Defqon1, Phase 2: Dear Minister...

"In recognition of a shared commitment to harm reduction, we have asked Detective Inspector Healey to share any evidence that general drug detection operations using dogs have reduced the risk of harm to patrons of similar events in the past. At the time of writing he has not provided that evidence.

Given that prevention of health harms is a core business of the Ministry and the Department of Health, we feel it is necessary to take those concerns to you as NSW Minister of Health."

Our letter to Gillian Skinner, Minister for Health

 Gillian Skinner

The Hon. Jillian Skinner, MP­
office@skinner.minister.nsw.gov.au

Dear Minister,

I write regarding an urgent matter.

This year marks the anniversary of the 2013 death of a 23 year old man at Defqon1 music festival. He reportedly took three ecstasy pills at once when he saw that there was a drug dog operation at the entrance, and died that night. On Sunday September 20, the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Penrith will host Defqon1 2014.

On behalf of drug harm reduction advocacy organization Unharm, I have engaged in a dialogue with acting commander of Penrith Local Area Command, Detective Inspector Grant Healey. Due to the apparent implication of the drug dog operation in the death last year, we have called for no drug dog operation at the event. Detective Inspector Healey responded that ‘the police will be conducting operations as we assess as necessary to reduce the risk of harm to patrons of the event’.

We note that the National Drug Strategy includes a commitment to evidence-based practice. The evidence we have seen indicates that general drug detection using dogs is ineffective and harmful.

In 2006 the NSW Ombudsman reviewed the program and concluded there was ‘little or no evidence to support claims that drug detection dog operations deter drug use, reduce drug-related crime, or increase perceptions of public safety.’

More recently, a robust study with over 2000 participants concluded that ‘the low proportion of reported positive notifications from the dogs by the participants who had drugs on them at the time of sighting questions the accuracy and effectiveness of this procedure. Despite the increased visibility of police drug detection dogs, regular ecstasy users continue to use and be in possession of illicit drugs in public, suggesting a limited deterrence effect. The hasty consumption of drugs upon sighting the dogs also raises health concerns.’

In recognition of a shared commitment to harm reduction, we have asked Detective Inspector Healey to share any evidence that general drug detection operations using dogs have reduced the risk of harm to patrons of similar events in the past. At the time of writing he has not provided that evidence.

Given that prevention of health harms is a core business of the Ministry and the Department of Health, we feel it is necessary to take those concerns to you as NSW Minister of Health.

Drugs can be harmful. The problem is too urgent to waste time and money on programs that do not work. Evidence indicates that general drug detection using dogs does not serve the public interest, and is in fact counterproductive when used at music festivals. Panic-based fatal overdoses are the most tragic outcome of this activity. This program is harmful and breaches a commitment to evidence that is at the core of the National Drug Strategy.

We therefore urge you to re-confirm NSW’s commitment to evidence-based practice within the terms of the National Drug Strategy. We also ask that the NSW Ministry of Health engage with Penrith Local Area Command to ensure that policing practices at Defqon1 are effective in reducing harms to event participants. This is a matter of great urgency given the substantial risk that the drug dog operation could be implicated in another overdose death this year.

Regards,
Will Tregoning, for Unharm

 


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