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Splendour in the Grass a 'missed opportunity' for drug testing -

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ELIZABETH JACKSON: Advocates of minimising the dangers of drugs are frustrated that tens of thousands of young party-goers are at one of the biggest events on the music festival calendar this weekend, without any organised drug testing available to them.

Some at Splendour in the Grass have told AM that they've smuggled in illicit substances, despite more than 100 police being deployed to target drug-taking at the festival this year.

Earlier this year, a series of deaths and a spike in hospital admissions related to ecstasy prompted a renewed push by some doctors and drug law reform groups for a trial of drug testing at festivals.

Lexi Metherell reports.

LEXI METHERELL: Byron Bay's population's more than doubling this weekend as around 36,000 mass for the three-day festival, Splendour in the Grass.

Uniformed and plain clothes police officers are patrolling the festival targeting drug use, with sniffer dogs in tow.

Tweed Byron local area commander, Detective Superintendent Wayne Starling, says those with drugs can expect to be caught.

WAYNE STARLING: The main thing is: we've publicised it. We've put it out to the media. The community knows, or the party-goers know that we're not going to tolerate drugs. So just don't bring- just come and have a good time and go home safe. That's all we want.

LEXI METHERELL: Many have heard that message and have brought drugs anyway.

One man, John, has told AM about the measures he and his friends took to conceal their drugs.

We'll spare you the details, but they've potentially placed their health at risk.

We've disguised John's real name and voice.

JOHN: I'd rather the embarrassment of being overly cautious than being caught.

LEXI METHERELL: This is actually kind of risky: what you've done to get the drugs in?

JOHN: Yeah. Because yeah, it is, I guess. But I mean, it's worth the risk.

LEXI METHERELL: A New South Wales Ombudsman's report a decade ago found sniffer dogs may unintentionally encourage drug users to risk their health by, for example, taking all their drugs at once to avoid detection.

Dr David Caldicott from the Australian National University says, on the other hand, the evidence shows making drug testing available at festivals helps keep festival-goers safe.

DAVID CALDICOTT: The message: "Just say no to drugs," which is being peddled hard in a very Nancy Reagan-esque way in New South Wales, it holds no credibility whatsoever with young consumers.

LEXI METHERELL: Earlier this year Dr Caldicott and other harm reduction advocates spoke of trialling drug testing at festivals.

He says the ACT and some states are willing, but NSW isn't.

DAVID CALDICOTT: We're ready to go. We would love to be at Splendour in the Grass. It's the first festival of the season. It's a really sad, missed opportunity for us. But it's in New South Wales and we've been told that we're not wanted there.

LEXI METHERELL: John and his friends are among those at Splendour in the Grass who have no idea what's in the drugs they've brought to the festival. But, he says, they're taking them anyway.

JOHN: I think the police should just give up on charging people for drugs. If they're actually trying to save lives, then they should start doing drug testing.

And they should just admit that they can't win this war. They should actually start taking approaches that actually work, like drug testing and that sort of thing.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Festival-goer John, ending that report from Lexi Metherell.