#Pilltesting Defqon

Written by on October 13, 2018

Originating in the Netherlands, Defqon.1 is a hard-dance music festival that’s also found success in Australia. The festival’s popularity has seen continuous growth, with the attendance reaching approximately 30,000 in Australia and 185,000 in the Netherlands for the respective 2018 events. While the event is a roaring commercial and artistic success, the Australian festival was marred by the passing away of two ravers from drug overdose. Several other attendees were also critically hospitalized as a result of drug-related issues. We at UP FM are deeply saddened by the news and hope those hospitalized made swift and full recoveries. Shockingly, up to 700 people sought help from medical staff at the event, according to news reports. Over the years running in Australia, four deaths have occurred as a result of drug overdose at the Defqon.1 festival.

Image from: https://defqon1.com.au

“I don’t want to see this ever happen again — young lives lost for no reason”.
– Gladys Berejiklian

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who maintains a stern zero tolerance stance to drugs, has labeled Defqon.1 an “unsafe” event. In light of the two deaths, she pledged to make sure the event never happens again. Such loss of life is a heartbreaking tragedy, the prevention of which makes it important to be understanding of its causes. In Ms. Berejilkian’s eagerness to show a compassionate position, her claim that lives were lost for “no reason” avoids explanation, abandons serious effort to prevent future casualties at similar events, and could be construed as willful ignorance. Her conclusion to have the Defqon.1 event banned to protect everyone who didn’t die from overdose is overbearing and overreaching to the thousands of people who were conscious of the risks around drug use.

It is well known young adults are a group most prone to risky behavior, and their most tragic statistics don’t depend on any singular organized event to place themselves at risk. Banning Defqon.1 pushes young adults who do take risks with drugs to go elsewhere – anywhere else – much less likely to have trained event medical staff on standby and much more likely resulting in hundreds if not thousands more avoidable deaths. The attraction to risky behavior is complex and includes rewards like social currency and excitement (Jenks. R, 2001). This is common in the world of illicit narcotics, and even includes additional attractions like the potential for tax free financial gain.

Image from: https://defqon1.com.au

While officials rightfully celebrate successful drug busts,[2], the decrease supply of illicit genuine drugs such as ‘non compromised’ ecstasy does not necessarily result in reduced demand. Due to the illicit nature of ecstasy and similar drugs, the black market demand is filled by parties without accountability distributing product without regulation. The death of a 23- year old attendee at Defqon.1 in 2013 lead police officials to speculate a bad batch of pills, bearing a horse head logo, may have been to blame. An article on the Spin identifies at least 20 deaths occurring in the UK in 2013 as a result of ecstasy and or drugs being passed off as ecstasy. As the genuine versions of certain drugs become harder to get, those that continue to, or at least claim to have the drug, are rewarded with higher social currency and greater opportunity for profit. Recognizing those who are prepared to supply are already high risk takers, it’s evident the methods and lengths they are willing to go to in order to meet the demands for supply also become dodgier.

According to the Australian Trends in Ecstacy and Related Drug Markets (2017), 22% of users reported purchasing illicit drugs online. Out of those that reported purchasing online, 29% purchased with the intent to distribute to friends. These purchases were generally made from the dark web and international sources using crypto currency. Such a purchase process often leaves no direct knowledge of whom the drugs are being purchased from, non-existent quality control and very difficult tracing. With the increased concern of drug content, many groups are advocating for pill testing. In 2018, Australia held its first legal pill testing trial at the Groovin The Moo festival. 50% of the pills tested were found to be pure MDMA while 50% contained other substances ranging from sweeteners, to paint. Out of 85 drug samples tested, two deadly pills were discovered.

In New Zealand, the group KnowYourStuffNZ, has been conducting pill testing at events in the country for several years now. The group is working on gathering data that may be used to encourage future policy and attitude toward drugs. According to their website, their findings so far indicate that when people tested their pills, 50% of those that found unforeseen ingredients in their pills chose not to take the drug. The group also claims their presence at events has resulted in less drug-related hospitalizations and harmful episodes than typical of said events.

(Retrieved from KnowYourStuffNZ)

Australia’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Center found 20% of self-identified ecstasy users reported recent consumption of capsules with unknown contents. The EDRS study also found 26% had overdosed on a drug in 2017, up from 19% in 2016. Tools and processes such as pill testing can be made readily available and used to determine the chemical content of drugs, resulting in an informed judgement of their likelihood of harm. Currently there is a majority support in Australia for #pilltesting with persons like medical doctor David Caldicott who conducted Australia’s first pill testing effort, firmly behind the movement. While there is resistance from politicians like NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, others such as NSW MP, David Shoebridge are highly in favor of pill testing.

Image from: https://defqon1.com.au

Q-Dance, the company that runs Defqon.1 enforces a zero tolerance policy toward drug use at their events.

“Q-dance maintains a ZERO tolerance drug policy. Our highest priority is to create a memorable and above all safe Defqon.1 experience for everyone who comes to party with us. We want to make you aware that the use of illicit substances carries a range of health risks including the possibility of death, and is strictly forbidden at this event. There will be a strong police, drug dog & security presence upon entry into the event to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being. If you are caught carrying illicit substances, you will risk a jail sentence.”


At the 2018 Defqon event, a total of 10 people, including two 17-year-old girls who allegedly carried 120 capsules internally into the venue, have been charged with drug supply offenses. A range of illicit drugs were seized including MDMA, cocaine and ecstasy. In a statement, police said a total of 355 drug searches were conducted with 69 people found to be in possession of drugs, including the 10 charged with supply offenses. Attendees of Defqon.1 interviewed by UP FM agree they felt the police and security presence.

While it was appreciated overall, there was unified concern for the ‘swarming’ of police to the drug-testing tent, deterring most people from going near it and attempting to have their pills tested. While large scale security and enforcement is executed with positive intent, there are also unforeseen, undesirable outcomes. An article by The Sydney Morning Herald quotes an artist manager that attended the 2013 Defqon.1 festival in Australia; “people were downing drugs at the start of the line to avoid arrest”. Such behavior was also witnessed by attendees of the 2018 Defqon.1 event interviewed by UP FM.

Image from: https://defqon1.com.au

As highlighted in a study by the University of New South Wales, drugs alone are often not the sole cause of death or health problems while under the influence. On the day of the Defqon.1 festival, September 15th 2018, Sydney had the hottest day of the month maintaining a high of 32*C from 13:00 to 15:30, with temperatures only falling under 30*C from 18:00 hours. Meanwhile, the humidity in this time period was also under 12%, with a low of 9%. When thousands of people are carried away dancing to music over 140 BPM, the mistake of misjudging the onset of dehydration isn’t unthinkable.

One attendee described the feeling of being in a ‘literal dust storm’, and seeing some attendees experience minor berating problems.  The ‘blistering heat’ comment was echoed by all those interviewed by UP FM, saying “out of those seeking medical attention, many were thought to have done so due to dehydration and heat”. As only one stage offered shade, considering the sheer size of the event, shade and quick and easy access to water  become considerable safety factors. Notably, water bottles and sunscreen were banned from being brought into the event (due to concern of drug smuggling), access to free water sometimes resulted in a long wait time and though widely available at the many bars, bottled water was very expensive, deterring some. Reports also suggest free sun screen and water supplies ran short.

Image from: https://defqon1.com.au

After the tragic deaths of the two Defqon.1 attendees, acting Assistant Commissioner Allan Sicard made the following statement; “We’ve done everything possible to make these events safe but we cannot get into the heads of people when they make the decision to take illicit drugs. They are criminally or illicitly obtained. The quality of these drugs cannot be ascertained. Illicit drugs are illicit — do not take them, they are dangerous substances”.

Festivals like Defqon.1 however provide opportunity for control and increased safety through medical assistance and drug testing which would not be readily available for users who would otherwise turn to smaller unofficial events, including illegal gatherings and house parties. All attendees of Defqon.1 2018 and previous Defqon.1 events interviewed by UP FM tout their appreciation for the professionalism and high number of medical staff at the Defqon.1 evens. The simple answer is no one should take drugs, especially illicit drugs, and most certainly avoid untested drugs. The risk to one’s health and even to others is simply too high. However, people do, and likely will for a long time. Given the opportunity, it seems sensible to do whatever possible to help lower the risks for those that chose to take drugs.

This article isn’t written as an investigation into why people take drugs, but rather to highlight the complexity of illicit drug consumption and the multivariate factors that are direct and indirect contributors to the decision to consume illicit drugs. On a positive note, Australian statistics (AIHW) show a significant decline in alcohol consumption, as well as decrease in the frequency of drinking for those that do. While there is undoubtedly high drug and alcohol use and abuse at festivals like Defqon.1, many attendees are drinking responsibly, while many are also sober. Based on various sources comparing Defqon.1 to similar events, Defqon comes out on top as one of, if not the safest festival in Australia.

Defqon.1

2018
69 drug charges 
1 assault

2017

37 drug charges
11 cautions
1 assault

2016

77 drug charges

Listen Out

2018
159 drug charges
42 cautions
6 assault charges
1 sexual assault
4 criminal infringements

2017
129 drug charges
1 sexual assault
5 assault charges

2016
120 drug charges
6 assault charges
6 criminal infringements

Splendour in the Grass

2018
115 drug charges
38 cautions
2 sexual assaults
2 assault charges
8 cautions

2017
267 drug charges
76 cautions
5 assault charges
65 criminal infringements

2016
323 drug charges


The hard-line approach does not appear to be working, as illicit drug use continues to be a concern. By focusing on drug policing, directed by policy makers, people’s health may be put at higher risk. The banning of one festival simply isn’t going to prevent drug use or death from drug use. Tackling this problem is a complicated matter, with causal roots deep within the fabric of society. Isn’t it time for a more sensible approach and provide large scale, consequence free drug testing at events like Defqon.1?


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