The majority of drug-related deaths at Australian music festivals over the past two decades have involved young people combining multiple illicit substances with alcohol, according to a first-of-its-kind study involving an expert from The Australian National University (ANU).  

The report showed 64 people died following attendance at a music festival or concert in Australia between 2000 and 2019.   

More than 73 per cent of those deaths were males and most were in their mid-20s.  

Study co-author, Associate Professor David Caldicott from ANU, said many of these incidents could potentially have been prevented.   

Associate Professor David Caldicott. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU.

“Harm reduction strategies, such as roving first aid volunteers, mobile medical care, spaces to rest, hydration stations and drug checking services, can help address some of the risks,” he said.  

“But we really need to understand the factors involved if we want to prevent further deaths.”  

The most commonly reported or detected drug was MDMA (65.6 per cent), followed by alcohol and cannabis.  

“That could be a function of the popularity of MDMA, the circumstances of its consumption in Australia, or the failure of our approaches or messaging,” Associate Professor Caldicott said.  

“It’s certain this has raised more questions than answers.”  

This study is the first to report on drug-related deaths at Australian music festivals. But according to the authors, it likely represents a small proportion of total drug overdoses.  
 
“The number of non-fatal cases of drug toxicity is probably much higher and also needs to be studied further,” co-author Associate Professor Jennifer Schumann from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine said.   

“The dose of MDMA and other illicit drugs in pills, powders and capsules, can vary considerably, exposing users to higher doses for sustained periods of time. Pill testing can help combat this — it gives festival-goers more information about the contents of their drugs before they use them, and has already proved successful during trials in Australia.  

“Health messaging at these events should also continue to highlight the importance of seeking early medical treatment if someone starts feeling unwell.”   

The study has been published in The International Journal of Drug Policy. 

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