Drug research experts agree with banning sniffer dogs at festivals

Earlier this week, Dan McNamee from Art vs Science published a letter he’d written to the Member for Ballina Don Page urging him to support a trial ban on sniffer dogs at this year’s Splendour in the Grass, to reduce the amount of panic and pre-game overdoses.

The Sydney Morning Herald now reports that a new study by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre backs up McNamee’s assertion that sniffer dogs at festivals cause people to change their behaviour and take risks.

“There was a 13 percent increase in the number of people who said they’d use at least some of their drugs outside the venue, rather than using them all inside,” head researcher Caitlin Hughes said. “The other big change was a 40 percent increase in the relative amount of consumption of ecstasy, methamphetamine and other drugs, as opposed to using cannabis… So they’re switching from cannabis to ecstasy and methamphetamine for reasons we think are to do with reducing their potential risk of detection by the dog.”

There have been several high profile deaths from panic and pre-game overdoses, where festival attendees have taken all their drugs before entering a festival to avoid capture by sniffer dogs, including teenager Gemma Thoms in 2009 at the Perth Big Day Out, and 23 year-old Victorian man James Munro, who overdosed after taking three ecstasy tablets “prior to entering Defqon.1 because there was a police presence at the gates where there were sniffer dogs,” as his father told the ABC.

Geoff Munro of the Australian Drug Foundation said, ”[The ADF] knows that the reality is that many people do take drugs at music festivals, so we need to all work together to make sure people come home safely… We would support police and festival organisers using other measures to keep festival goers safe and healthy during the event.”

“There’s certainly been a lot of consternation about this issue, so some sort of experiment might be a good idea,” agreed NDARC researcher Caitlin Hughes. “But I’m not sure if police would be happy to participate.”


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