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 events
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.’