Doctor calls for Grim Reaper style ads aimed at drug use
A FORENSIC psychiatrist has called for a repeat of the successful Grim Reaper commercials from the 1980s that raised public awareness over AIDS to be aimed at illicit drugs use.
Doctor Russ Scott told the inquest investigating six deaths of festival goers from MDMA overdoses an education campaign spelling out the dangers of taking party pills is the only way to reduce fatalities while testing normalises drugs.
"Pill testing gives drugs use a normalisation, at festivals, nightclubs and parties at the weekend when, in fact, these pills are very dangerous," Dr Scott said.
"Even one pill is harmful yet we do not see social media campaigns highlighting the risks.
"When we had the AIDS epidemic reducing the impact of that was about safe use of drugs and safe sex practises.
"We consequently have a great sexual health practise in Australia; it warned against intravenous drugs and the impact of unprotected sex, - we have not seen the same recently about the harms of taking pills.
"We need to educate people in the same was the HIV and AIDS ads did, young people need to be educated and reminded buying one pill in a back alley, or at a festival, does not come without risks, and that you could have some idiosyncratic sensitivity to it."
The highly successful $3 million Grim Reaper education commercials warned AIDS could kill more Australians than World War II and depicted the Grim Reaper in a bowling alley knocking over men, women and children "pins" representing AIDS victims.
NSW Coroner's Court is investigating the deaths of Joseph Pham, Nathan Tran, Joshua Tam, Diana Nguyen, Callum Brosnan and Alexandra Ross-King, who also all died from MDMA toxicity or complications of MDMA use at NSW music festivals between December 2017 and January 2019.
Dr Scott maintained Groovin The Moo festival pill testing in Canberra last year was proof it did not work, with 75 per cent of revellers advised that their pill contained something other than what they were expecting, still going on to take it.
Professor Nicole Lee from NGO group The Loop, which carried out drug testing at festivals in the UK over the last two years, argued drug testing gave the aura taking drugs is dangerous.
"Taking drugs is potentially dangerous, and they're being tested for that reason; there is no evidence to say pill testing normalises drugs," Dr Lee said.
Toxicologist Michelle Williams called for a permanent stand alone drug testing facility in a laboratory with improved equipment to provide high level testing with results sent to hospital emergency departments.
"Scraping a pill from the centre or the side is not representative of the whole pill ," Dr Williams said.
"We need better information with links to the police and health services."