Pill testing cancelled for Groovin The Moo days out from Canberra festival

Due to the festival's insurance company withdrawing its coverage and support, said the President of Harm Reduction Australia

On-ground pill testing services at the 2022 edition of Groovin The Moo in Canberra have been cancelled just days out from the ACT event on April 24.

In a press statement on April 20, President of Harm Reduction Australia Gino Vumbaca said that the blame lay with insurers, rather than the festival itself.

“I regretfully must inform you that the insurance company involved in insuring our service have today withdrawn their coverage and support for pill testing services, despite the detailed risk management work put together by our team and Groovin the Moo’s team,” Vumbaca said.

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“This situation occurred not long after the insurance company for the festival requested substantive additional requirements from Harm Reduction Australia before they could support pill testing services being included at the festival. All this occurred within a 48-hour period just days before the festival is due to commence.”

Vumbaca went on to note that the team behind Groovin The Moo “have maintained their strong support for our pill testing service,” and share Harm Reduction Australia’s “deep disappointment with the cancellation of pill testing services”.

Harm Reduction Australia president Gino Vumbaca at Groovin The Moo 2019 pill testing facility
Harm Reduction Australia President Gino Vumbaca at Groovin The Moo 2019’s pill testing facility. Credit: Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images

His statement concluded by addressing insurance companies that he said refuse to work with the group despite their pill testing service successfully running at the festival’s last iteration in 2019 and potentially saving seven lives, organisers said at the time.

“Your inability to see how pill testing reduces the risk of harm at festivals has substantially increased the risk of harm for young people attending the festival, and their families,” he said. “You have turned your back on the community you serve, and the many health professionals and volunteers that try to make the community we live in a safer and more humane place for everyone.”

In a joint statement with Harm Reduction Australia, Groovin The Moo’s organisers have shared the sentiment of disappointment surrounding the cancellation.

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“Unfortunately there were unexpected complications with insurance for both Harm Reduction Australia and Groovin the Moo, which has now made it impossible for the service to go ahead,” the statement read.

“”Both Harm Reduction Australia and Groovin the Moo maintain their strong support for Harm Reduction Australia’s pill testing service, and share deep disappointment with this cancellation.”

Pill testing at music festivals in Australia became a hot-button issue in the late 2010s following several drug-related deaths. In a statement to the Brisbane Times in 2019, Dr David Caldicott – an emergency medical consultant working in Canberra – stressed the need for harm reduction over simple calls for abstinence. “Telling young people not to take drugs is about as useful as telling them not to have sex before marriage,” he said.

“We obviously need to do something new because we have a whole generation of young people ignoring what they are being told and a wide variety of new drugs coming onto the market.”

In 2020, it was reported that two-thirds of respondents to the Australian Election Study supported pill-testing. Researchers said that the support came primarily from younger and more left-leaning voters, as well as those who don’t attend church.

Groovin The Moo will return this weekend following a two-year hiatus on account of COVID-19. It will take place at Maitland Showgrounds on Saturday April 23, followed by Exhibition Park in Canberra the following day and Bendigo’s Prince Of Wales Showgrounds on April 30.

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