Press statement on Dragon Dreaming death and call for festival to be shut down

Police response to death at Dragon Dreaming prompts call from drug harm reduction organisation Unharm for evidence-based approach to keeping people safe at future eventsDrug checking service poster at Shambala music festival, Canada

Main contact: Will Tregoning, will[at]unharm.org

In the wake of the tragic death of a young woman at Dragon Dreaming Festival in Wee Jasper this weekend, local police Superintendent Zoran Dzevlan has been reported as saying that ‘as a result of these drug detections, and the tragic death of a young lady, we will again be putting our recommendations forward for this event not to take place in our community.’

Unharm director Will Tregoning has said he is disappointed by the police response, saying that ‘We need to deal with this issue in an honest and realistic way, rather than pushing it out of sight. Illicit drug use is not unique to events like this. In fact, 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.’

One festival attendee, Dan Gooden said ‘The police presence was oppressive. I was attending the festival for an night with my wife and 3 month old daughter to spend time with friends and enjoy the experience of the festival, and was subjected to a 20 plus minute search of my body and vehicle in the heat of the day while my daughter waited in the car. I felt intimidated by the number of police who surrounded my car the roadblock, and was accused of lying by one of the officers.’

A 2006 Ombusman’s report found 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 recent research by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre has found that drug detection operations at festivals increase risky behaviours while having only marginal effects on the levels of drug consumption.

In NSW alone in the last 12 months, there have been four deaths at music festivals where there have been high visibility police operations, and two of those deaths have been confirmed as drug related (at Harbourlife 2014 and A State of Trance in 2015).

Will Tregoning commented that ‘there is another far more effective way to ensure participants at festivals are safe. In countries like Portugal and the Netherlands, 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 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.’


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  • I was at this same event last year with my younger sister of 14 and a few friends.
    I’m not surprised there’s been calls to shut down dragon dreaming after that girls death as my sister went to the toilet and came back with an acid trip.
    I asked her to show me who gave it to her she pointed him out and I approached him he introduced himself and said he was one of the organizers of Dragon Dreaming I was not impressed and threw it back in his face.
    Drugs are out there no matter what and you wont stop it especially if it’s coming from the organizers themselves.
    I won’t be taking her to another Dragon Dreaming event that’s for sure he knows who he is and if he’s monitored from now on he’s got no one to blame but himself I was horrified that’s for sure.
    He felt really bad but I personally was discusted and mad.For one of the organizers he needs to take a bit more care then that. Don’t know what I would of done if she’d taken it without telling me but we do live in a society where drugs are out there no matter what.
    I’m just glad I approached the problem and fixed it could of been my sister witnessing that.
    I just hope he doesn’t do that often talk about your lack of care.
    M Starr
  • Drug testing kits can be easily purchased on the internet. Are there legal issues that currently prevent someone independently setting up a tent outside/inside festivals that utilises these tests for the festival attendees? I understand there is current debate around the government taking responsibility for this happening but what if an independent body was to do it?
    I recognise the logistical issues involved in this possibility (eg, police immediately searching anyone who accesses the tent). I’m just curious regarding the legal aspects of this.