As the music festival death toll rises, we look at the hot topic of pill testing. 


One of Australia’s largest music festivals, Splendour in the Grass was held at Byron Bay from Friday July 19th to Sunday 21st.  Police seized a record number of narcotics at the highly anticipated event, and more than 200 people were charged with drug offences.  

Tweed/Byron Police District Commander Superintendent Dave Roptell said it was disappointing that despite the warnings, the possession and supply of illicit substances continues, as it is not only a criminal offence but is harmful to health.  

House Call Doctors are concerned by the use of drugs at music festivals, with six young adults dying at Australian music festivals between December 2017 and January this year. Last week, NSW had a coronial hearing into the deaths of six young people who all died from MDMA toxicity.  

Findings from the inquest: 

  • Many Australian festival-goers mix their illegal drugs or alcohol 
  • The most used drugs among Australian music festival attendees were alcohol (96.6%), MDMA (79.5%), cannabis (74%) and cocaine (69.1%)  
  • 2.5% of those who consumed MDMA received medical treatment compared to 4.3% who drank alcohol. 

Drug consumption in Queensland 

Regional Queensland has the second highest average consumption of MDMA in the country. Further, the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program found, in Queensland, the average MDMA consumption increased in both capital city and regional sites between April 2018 and August 2018.  

Drug consumption in Australia 

The National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program found Australians consumed more than 9.6 tonnes of methylamphetamine annually, as well as more than 4 tonnes of cocaine, 1.1 tonnes of MDMA and more than 700 kilograms of heroin. This amounts to over $9.3 billion worth of illicit drugs consumed over a 12-month period.  

Possible Health Effects of Drug Consumption 

People don’t often understand the dangerous side effects of drug use. Possible health effects include:,  

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) 
  • Panic attacks 
  • Loss of consciousness  
  • Seizures  
  • Rise in body temperature (hyperthermia) which could lead to kidney failure or brain swelling 
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) 
  • Depression and anxiety 
  • Sleep disturbances. 

Is drug testing the solution?  

A study released last week by RMIT University drug researcher Monica Barratt, found some of the harms around MDMA related to “the lack of regulation of supply” of the drug.  

Statistics show before Australia’s first legal medically-supervised heroin injecting room in Kings Cross opened in 1999, 958 people died as a result of heroin overdose. Yet during its first 18 months after opening, there were 329 overdoses in the centre, requiring “clinical management” but no deaths.  

Similarly, Dr David Caldicott from Harm Reduction Australia, performed pill testing at Canberra’s Groovin’ The Moo festival this year and noted that “when festival-goers were told about the potential hazards, many were shocked… they hadn’t really felt that they had been educated about that before”. While pill testing may not stop drug use entirely, it can certainly educate festival-goers about their choices.  

Tips on staying safe at a music festival  

The experts from House Call Doctor have put together some top tips on how to stay happy and healthy whilst having a blast at a music festival:

1. Keep track of the number of drinks you have consumed to avoid sickness 

2. Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water and taking time out of the mosh pit 

3. Eat plenty of food before the festival and bring snacks to keep your energy up throughout the day 

4. Create a buddy system – wherever they go, you go too and vice versa. This way no one will get lost, especially if someone’s phone runs out of battery! 

5. Get your bearings early on, so you can easily locate toilets, first aid tents, camping areas, the various stages and public transport stops 

6. Seek medical assistance if you or a friend are feeling unwell. The medical team’s highest priority is your safety and they won’t be getting you in trouble for the alcohol or substances you have taken. 
It is important to call 000 if there is an emergency, otherwise you can seek help from your GP. If it’s after hours, contact House Call Doctor by booking online, via the free app or by calling 13 55 66.