Police, sniffer dogs ‘contributed’ to festival deaths
MDMA itself is not a particularly harmful drug and pill testing could have prevented the deaths of the six young revellers at last summer's dance festivals, according to an expert witness at their inquest.
Psychologist Dr Stephen Bright told the inquest the high police presence at festivals, with body searches and sniffer dogs, should be considered as "contributing" to deaths.
Dr Bright is one of a number of experts contacted by the inquest who have backed pill testing at festivals.
But they have been accused of skewing statistics to support their views by prison forensic psychiatrist Russ Scott and a respected medical expert from Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital, Dr Ian Scott, who believe pill testing remains unproven.
The inquest has been told Diana Nguyen, 21, Joseph Pham, 23, Alexandra Ross-King, 19, and Nathan Tran, 18, died of MDMA toxicity; Joshua Tam, 22, died of "complications" from MDMA use after taking between five and six pills and a litre of vodka; and Callum Brosnan, 19, died of "MDMA and cocaine toxicity".
The inquest on Tuesday heard harrowing details of Mr Brosnan's final moments after he took up to nine MDMA caps and danced solidly for eight hours at the Knockout Games of Destiny festival before he collapsed frothing at the mouth on his way home.
A close friend told how the 19-year-old disability care worker preferred to "push through" and not seek help at the medical tent when he felt unwell at the Sydney Showground last year.
In their expert report, which had been sought by the inquest, Russ Scott and Ian Scott said the risk of death from MDMA was "entirely unpredictable" and there was "no evidence from anywhere in the world" to show pill testing reduced deaths at dance festivals.
They challenged results of the first pilot study of pill testing at Canberra's Groovin the Moo festival last year which was hailed as a success after just 83 samples were tested.
In their joint report tendered to the inquest, they said that despite the pill testing, 85 revellers, or two-and-a-half times more than in 2017, presented to the medical tent and ACT Ambulance with drug problems and an unknown number went to youth support programs.
One US study found 20 per cent of non-users said they might be more likely to try MDMA if pills were tested.
They said while a frequently-cited first pilot study of pill testing in the UK showed nearly a fifth of samples were not the substance reputedly sold, only one in five users dumped the drugs and five out of six said they would not moderate drug taking.
Dr Bright said onsite drug testing "might have prevented the deaths" of the young revellers through simply "providing them with education regarding the increased risk of hyperpyrexia following MDMA consumption and the supply of water and a 'chill' space".