Australian music festival attendees: A national overview of demographics, drug use patterns, policing experiences and help seeking behaviour
This bulletin provides an overview of the demographic profiles, patterns of festival attendance and drug use, policing experiences and help-seeking behaviours of Australian music festival attendees.
The last 12 months has seen ongoing debate and policy activity across Australia about music festival safety, particularly in relation to drug use and drug-related harm. For example, the Australian Capital Territory has conducted its second pill testing trial at an Australian music festival, while New South Wales (NSW) established an Expert Panel on Music Festival Safety that led to a new offence for “drug supply leading to death”; expanded medical service provision on-site at festivals; increased funding for peer educators e.g. DanceWize NSW; and introduced an infringement notice to enable people detected in possession of drugs other than cannabis to pay an on-the-spot fine instead of being arrested and sent to court (NSW Government, 2018). Yet, there remain ongoing gaps in knowledge about the profiles and patterns of drug use and drug-related harms amongst festival attendees in Australia.
The existing research indicates that Australian festival attendees can be at risk of drug-related harms. For example, Lim et al. (2010) analysed the profiles of Melbourne Big Day Out participants over a four-year period and found that participants were more likely to have used illicit drugs than the general Australian population and that drug use was more common among men, older participants and those engaging in high‐risk sexual behaviour. Hughes et al. (2017) used a national survey to show that drug law enforcement has a minimal deterrent effect on drug use and supply at Australian music festivals, but that specific modes of policing can lead to more harmful practices such as increasing drug purchasing within festival grounds. Grigg, Barratt & Lenton (2018a, 2018b) showed high rates (48%) of ‘double dropping’, that is, taking two tablets of Ecstasy/MDMA at once at Western Australian and Victorian festival settings, and how police deployment of drug detection dogs at festivals can increase internal concealment of drugs or hasty drug consumption on site of dogs. Additionally, in-depth interviews with Australian festival attendees revealed the negative social and emotional impacts of being screened by drug detection dogs (Malins, 2019).
The Global Drug Survey (GDS) has explored cross-national patterns of drug use and drug-related harms for the last 8 years (Barratt et al., 2017). GDS first included a question measuring festival attendance at the end of 2018 and led to capture of the largest sample of Australian festival attendees yet analysed. Herein we capitalise on this to provide insight into the national profiles of Australian festival attendees.
This bulletin provides an overview of the demographic profiles, patterns of festival attendance and drug use, policing experiences and help-seeking behaviours of 5,155 Australian music festival attendees surveyed in late 2018. Specifically, it outlines:
- Demographics (age, sex, residence, education, employment, criminal history)
- Frequency and nature of festival attendance within and outside Australia
- Frequency of illicit drug use and typical quantities consumed
- Likelihood and nature of police encounters
- Emergency Medical Treatment (EMT) seeking and level of interest in reducing drug use