Two people have died after attending Sydney, Australia festival, Defqon.1.
23-year-old Joseph Pham and a 21-year-old woman were pronounced dead at Nepean hospital after having collapsed at the annual hardstyle festival, according to a police report. Both festival-goers, from western Sydney and Melbourne respectively, died from suspected drug overdoses.
Three more festival-goers remain in a critical condition in hospital. 13 individuals visited Napean hospital seeking medical attention for drug-related issues after the festival, while 700 are estimated to have sought medical help for similar issues during the event itself.
The tragic news of two attendee's deaths has lead to New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian announcing that she intends to forbid the festival from running again. She said, "I never want to see this event held in Sydney or New South Wales ever again — we will do everything we can to shut this down".
She also spoke about her opposition to the introduction of harm prevention strategies at festivals. "Anyone who advocates pill testing is giving the green light to drugs,” she said. “There is no such thing as a safe drug and unfortunately when young people think there is, it has tragic consequences.”
In response to Berejiklian’s criticisms of drug testing facilities at festivals and clubs, harm reduction organisation Sniff Off posted on its social media channels, saying, “It is disgusting that Gladys Berejiklian is using the tragic loss of these two young lives to push her absurd "just don't do drugs" message when it is the NSW government's extreme overpolicing measures that allowed deaths like this to occur in the first place. Installing police with drug dogs at festivals only causes people to panic-swallow all their drugs at once, so it's no wonder that people overdose.”
“Year after year, it becomes clearer that overpolicing actively harms instead of helps,” they added. “People DON'T need to live in fear of a jail sentence just because they want to enjoy themselves at a music festival. People DO need access to non-judgemental information about what they're taking and how to take it safely.”
Another Sydney-based harm reduction non-profit, Unharm, also took to social media. "For years Defqon.1 has had a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on drugs,” they wrote. “They tell patrons that anyone found with drugs will be handed over to police. Since 2013, the Defqon.1 death toll stands at four, with two more people dying after this year’s event. This is what ‘zero tolerance’ has achieved. It’s way past time to take a different approach. It’s time for drug safety testing now."
This summer, DJ Mag spoke to Fiona Measham, founder of UK harm reduction organisation The Loop about the work that they do and importance of such fascilities being made available at festivals in the UK and abroad.