“Gob-Smacked”: Pill Testing At Groovin The Moo Got Axed Just Days Before Festival Starts

"[We] reduce the risk of harm at festivals by being there. At the same time they’re saying we’re too high risk to have at a festival."

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A pill testing operation at this year’s Groovin The Moo music festival in Canberra has been cancelled less than 48 hours before the event after an insurance company withdrew their support and subsequent coverage for the program.

Despite an operation conducted by Harm Reduction Australia at the festival in 2019, which was widely lauded for saving seven lives after discovering toxic substances, the not-for-profit announced that it was unable to conduct the scheduled program due to being unable to find a replacement insurer after the original company pulled out.

The President of Harm Reduction Australia, Gino Vumbuca told Junkee that decisions regarding public health should not be left in the hands of “faceless insurance companies”.

“We have government support, police, health, venue’s act, public support, festival promoters support. In the end, the only thing stopping us was that the insurance company said no,” Mr Vumbuca said. “We legally can’t operate without insurance, and if no insurance company is prepared to insure us then we can’t operate. So who actually decides what programs and services are going to be available for people?”

Mr Vumbuca told Junkee that the designation of his service as “high-risk”, due to its engagement with people who use drugs, puts the future of other public health services at risk, including safe injecting rooms and rehabilitation centres.

“All of that is about reducing risk to the community, reducing risk to the individual and their families from the potential harms of drug use,” Mr Vumbuca said. “The decision for us is illogical because what we have shown and proven to do is reduce the risk of harm at festivals by being there. At the same time, they’re saying we’re too high risk to have at a festival.” 

A spokesperson from the Insurance Council of Australia told Junkee that it was “understandable” insurance companies were seeking additional information in the program.

Insurance prices risk, so given the inherently risky nature of taking illicit drugs it is understandable that insurers would seek additional information or requirements of the policyholder in order to price the risks involved.” An ICA spokesperson told Junkee. “Right now, insurance globally is in what is known as a “hard market”, which means the risk appetite for insurers is low. Activities of these sorts, which are inherently risky, may be less appealing to insurers in this environment.”

Harm Reduction Australia were found eligible for public liability insurance for their pilot program in 2019, and successful received coverage.

“I want to be clear that the Groovin the Moo promoters have maintained their strong support for our pill testing service and share our deep disappointment with the cancellation of pill testing services,” Vumbuca said.