Festivals must tackle drug culture

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Parents are always worried about their kids – that’s just natural – but at some point in bringing up your son or daughter, a news story rocks a parent’s very foundations.

It will be the first of many such stories that will drive concern and worry, but it’s often the one that hits hardest.

It’s the moment you realise that it’s impossible to watch your kids 24 hours a day, seven days a week, particularly once they become teenagers and have influences outside of the family circle they’ve grown up with.

For my parents, I reckon it was the death of school girl Anna Wood back in 1995.

I was a teenager at the time, and I can remember my parents speaking to me about the dangers of drugs in the days that followed her tragic death, which captivated the nation.

Those who can remember the death of the young, bright school girl with the big future must just be shaking their heads after seeing the face that adorned the front pages on Monday.

It was that of 19-year-old Georgina Bartter, who died of an apparent ecstasy overdose at the Harbourlife dance festival in Sydney last weekend.

20 years after the death of Anna Wood, what have we really learned?

Georgina Bartter’s passing last weekend was not a rare case – drug deaths are sadly common in Australia, and the answer to the above question is that in reality, we’ve learned nothing.

The dance party that Georgina attended last week saw 78 other people arrested for drugs offences.

There would be some who would say that’s a good result considering the number of people at the event, and to be honest, if a death hadn’t been attached to this story, the 78 arrests would have barely rated a mention by police and the wider media.

Georgina’s parents described the circumstances surrounding their daughter’s death as “extremely out of character”.

Most parents would say the same thing about their kids because in truth, most parents have no idea what their 19-year-old son or daughter are really doing on a night out.

The only way to get through to teenagers considering experimenting with drugs is to ensure they know the real consequences and the dangers that exist.

These days, that would be through social media campaigns and the like.

But I think the festivals involved at the centre of tragedies like this really need to take a stronger approach as well.

I’m not in any way blaming the festivals themselves or calling for them to be shut down – after all, Georgina Bartter’s death can tragically only be blamed on one person, and that is herself – but they have a responsibility to tackle an issue that is well-known at these type of events.

When I took a look at the official website for the Harbourlife festival on Monday, it’s clear that not enough is done to really push the message home about the dangers of drug use.

Sure, there’s a warning or two about not bringing in drugs – but it’s mainly talking about criminal convictions and records, rather than the risk of death.

Same goes for their Facebook page – the perfect place to get the message out there about the dangers of taking drugs at such events is instead focused on suggestions for which pre-event vodka to consume and advertisements for the festival’s official beer.

Organisers of these events know that festivals of this kind have a drug culture.

It’s time they got their head out of the sand and started tackling the issue head on, before we have another Georgina Bartter or Anna Wood.

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