Second Death Hits Stereosonic Fest, Calls for Pill Testing Intensifies
A second death at Australia’s Stereosonic festival has escalated debate on how law enforcement officials should tackle the proliferation of illegal stimulants.
A 19-year-old man, identified as Stefan Woodward, died in hospital after attending the Adelaide leg of Stereosonic on Saturday, held on a sweltering summer day which tipped the mercury to 40 degrees C (104 degrees F). Woodward’s death came just a week after a 25-year-old woman, Sylvia Choi, overdosed at the traveling fest’s Sydney event.
Both fatalities have been blamed on the drug Ecstasy, or MDMA.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon has called for a coronial inquest into Woodward's death. "We need to ask questions of what the police were doing," Adelaide-based Xenophon said. "Thirty-five pills were confiscated when it appears that this concert was awash with pills. Using these pills seems to be a chemical form of Russian roulette. The other issue is what duty of care do the organizers of this event have."
The discussion around pill testing on site at music festivals is growing louder, as are calls for cops to ditch their controversial sniffer dog operations
Matt Noffs, CEO of the Noffs Foundation, which works with young people battling drug and alcohol problems, is an advocate for drug harm minimization. He tweeted, "Another festival death. This is becoming ridiculous. We can start saving lives today. It's #timetotest."
Noffs’ message was retweeted by the Unharm charity, which is behind a "ditch the dogs" petition. Unharm argues that drug dog operations are intrusive, have little or no deterrent effect and they increase the risk of drug overdose by panicking festival-goers into consuming all their drugs before going through the gate.
Meanwhile, the mother of Daniel Buccianti, a 34-year-old man who died after taking a drug overdose at an open-air event in 2012, has launched a petition on Change.org urging the premiers of Victoria and New South Wales to legislate for drug checking services to “stop more deaths.” Adriana Buccianti’s petition has more than 34,000 supporters.
Organizers of the five-city Stereosonic festival, which was headlined by the likes of Armin van Buuren, Major Lazer and Axwell & Ingrosso, warned party-goers of the “dangers of drug use." In a message posted on its Facebook page over the weekend, promoters Totem OneLove wrote: "We have tragically lost two lives to drugs during our festival and whilst every effort has been made to protect you and keep you safe with our teams of professional medical and security staff, you as individuals need to make smart choices and understand the risks you are taking.”
Stereosonic performer and 2014 ARIA Award winning electronic act Peking Duk responded to Woodward's death with a message on the duo's Facebook page: "Fuck this. Heavier policing will not prevent deaths. Australia, it's time to start testing".
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 20 people were admitted for emergency medical care during the tour-closing Brisbane event on Sunday for what have been described as "drug overdoses," while more than 130 people were charged, most with drug offenses. Extra security staff and ambulance officers were hired to supervise party-goers throughout the day.
Woodward's family is also calling for safer measures to protect fest-goers. "I want organizers of events like these to make sure there is enough first aid on offer to make sure that no-one gets turned away, and no-one feels they need to wait," the family said in a statement. "I want friends to look after each other and make sure it's never considered weak to ask for help. I want authorities to make sure kids are kept safe with free water. And I want young boys and girls like Stefan to never be too scared to ask for help."