Calls to introduce pill testing at music festivals across Australia are at an all-time high following the death of a 19-year-old woman at FOMO Festival last weekend.
Alex Ross-King's passing at the Sydney event on Saturday marked the fifth death from a suspected drug overdose in as many months. Yesterday, the NSW government was urged to launch a "pilot pill testing trial" at Ultra Music Festival Australia in Sydney next month.
However, speaking to The Music, revered festival promoter and founder of Stereosonic events, Richie McNeill, says pill testing is not the only way drug-related deaths can be prevented.
"It’s a shame it has come to this. So many innocent lives lost. The real way to fix it, is a holistic approach. Not a knee jerk reaction," McNeill said.
"While people push for pill testing, that alone is not the answer. I’ve done a lot of research, I’m in support of it but there are negatives to consider. Whether a pill is poisonous or not, there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration such as weight of the person, if the person has heart history trouble, have they eaten, what have they drunk, are they on any meds or prescription drugs?"
McNeill says the "drug problem" is evident globally and that pill testing would "only just scrape the surface".
"There’s so many other factors, it's a double edge sword no matter how you look at it. It needs real lengthy robust discussion, not quick-fix policy.
"The last national drug summit (way back when) brought about safe injecting rooms and assisted a better solution to the heroin problem. With the emergence of the ice epidemic and the mass amount of violence, crime and death that has occurred (including murders), I see a massive lot of issues we need to look at.
"If someone dies at an event, I think there would naturally be more attention on that promoter. Imagine if that was to happen at a hotel or pub? That licensee would be under the microscope also? One thing I have learnt in all my times, is don't believe everything you read in the newspapers."
McNeill's comments come as FOMO Festival organisers dismissed a report published in The Daily Telegraph this week, which claimed organisers had met with NSW Health to discuss if they had "broke any rules" after Saturday's event.
"We are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of a young woman after attending the festival in Sydney on Saturday. Our hearts and thoughts continue to go out to the young woman's family and friends during this distressing time," FOMO said in a statement given to The Music on Tuesday.
"In relation to the stories that ran in today’s edition of the Daily Telegraph, a number of factual inaccuracies appear in that reporting. We would ask readers to exercise their better judgement while considering the contents of that publication’s reporting on the issue.
"FOMO Festival organisers did not meet with Health NSW's Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant on January 14, as stated in The Daily Telegraph today. We do however continue to work with all relevant authorities at all stages of the review process. The safety and wellbeing of all our patrons has been and will continue to be of paramount importance to us."
Meanwhile, the Coroners Court announced on Tuesday it would hold a public hearing into the five suspected drug-related deaths on 22 January.