Pill testing at Groovin the Moo festival potentially saves seven lives, organisers say

Lisa Martin

The lives of seven young people were potentially saved at the weekend when a second pill testing trial at the Groovin the Moo festival in Canberra identified lethal substances.

Patrons discarded their drugs after testing alerted them that their pills contained dangerous n-ethylpentylone. MDMA was the most common substance identified followed by cocaine, ketamine and methamphetamines.

Organiser Gino Vumbaca from Pill Testing Australia hailed the trial a success and said 171 samples had been tested on behalf of 234 participants. He said there were long queues to use the pill testing service and people waited patiently for up to 20 minutes. Testing takes about 10 minutes.

Related: NSW's resistance to pill testing will drive dealers to sell 'more dangerous drugs', ACT warns

About 35 volunteer doctors, chemists and counsellors worked on shifts during the trial to educate youngsters about drug use and negative effects. One doctor flew over from Perth to participate.

“I spoke to a lot of young people as they walked out and the most common thread was they know a hell of a lot more now than they did when they walked in,” Vumbaca told the Guardian.

“Some were very appreciative saying, ‘Thank God you guys are here because we know (about the recent festival deaths) in New South Wales and Queensland and other states’.”

Gino Vumbaca in the pill testing facilities at the Groovin the Moo 2019 festival in Canberra

Gino Vumbaca in the pill testing facilities at the Groovin the Moo 2019 festival in Canberra. Photograph: Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images

There were also Groovin the Moo festivals in Adelaide and Maitland, NSW at the weekend which did not offer pill testing services.

A South Australian ambulance spokeswoman confirmed one teenager was taken to an Adelaide hospital in a serious condition after losing consciousness and paramedics also responded to a 20-year-old woman with a suspected drug overdose.

NSW police said 14 people were taken to hospital with suspected drug and alcohol intoxication cases at the Maitland festival.

The first trial at Groovin the Moo in the ACT last year had uncovered two pills containing potentially lethal contaminants.

Related: Parents of drug-overdose victims at odds over benefits of pill testing

ACT police said the crowd at the Canberra event this year was generally well behaved. Officers seized multiple drugs including MDMA and apprehended two teenagers who will be referred to an ACT drug diversion program.

Two people were taken to the ACT police watch house for intoxication and disorderly behaviour and there was also an alleged sexual assault.

ACT paramedics took four people to hospital – two for medical conditions and two for intoxication.

Pill Testing Australia is crowdfunding to run further pill testing trials at music festivals. Vumbaca said pill testing equipment is worth about $100,000 and contrasted the expense against police drug detention dogs, which can cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.