Turns Out SMH’s Claim That 90% Of Music Fans “Use Drugs” Is Total Bullshit

If that figure seems a little off for you, that's because it is.

festival drug users

Yesterday morning, a story on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald reported that “NSW Ministry of Health data indicated up to 90 [per] cent of young festival patrons used drugs”. If that figure seems high to you, that’s because it is: it’s wrong.

The source for the fairly extraordinary claim was a speech made earlier this week to a coronial inquest into drug deaths at music festivals. According to the SMH, Dr Peggy Dwyer, a lawyer assisting the coroner, told the court that the NSW government had collected “anecdotal evidence suggesting that up to 95 percent of young festival patrons use illicit substances”.

Now, anyone who’s actually reported closely on drug use at festivals can tell you that this figure of ninety percent seems…quite wrong. And as it turns out, it is: according to the NSW Ministry of Health, it’s not even what they said.

As a NSW Health spokesperson explained to Junkee, NSW’s Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant, provided a statement to the coroner which mentioned some research the government commissioned on young people.

Crucially, that research wasn’t aimed at finding out how many festival-goers take drugs — it was aimed at evaluating the success of a NSW Health social media campaign.

“The research included face to face qualitative interviews of 24 young people and an online survey of 400 people who attended a music festival within the last 12 months,” the spokesperson explained. “The data from this research provides insight about young people’s perceptions of festival attendees, rather than reporting on people’s actual drug use.”

“It is not suggested by the Ministry of Health that this data be quoted as evidence of fact.”