The recent series of Stereosonic music festivals were marred by two drug-related deaths at successive events and numerous other drug overdoses. A lot of what was written and said about the events has been around what a tragedy these deaths are and why didn't the organisers do more to protect people. I don't wish to be insensitive to the victims' families, but I feel that this type of narrative neglects the really important aspect of individual accountability for our choices and their consequences. I understand it is considered poor taste to speak I'll of the recently deceased which is why I held off posting this for a few weeks. But I want to make a comment because I think there is a worrisome attitude that needs to be spoken about, even at risk of hurting a few feelings.
Of course event organisers should try to minimise illegal or harmful activities such as drug use and provide appropriate first aid for those who need it. But people that want to take drugs are still going to find ways to do so. I think it would be very naïve to suggest organisers actually have the capacity to stop it. Another criticism I read was that first aid facilities were not adequate and perhaps that is something that could be improved, but again I am wary of any suggestion that it is the responsibility of others to make sure drug users survive their overdoses (obviously, all care that can be given should be- I’m not in any way saying that first aid should not be given to overdose cases) because it continues to undermine the idea that individuals are responsible for their own choices.
If you choose to take dangerous and unpredictable party drugs then- as my friend- you are not just putting your life at risk, but you are also playing pretty fast and loose with my wellbeing; because if you die of an overdose that will be devastating for me as well. Is that a fair choice for you to make?
I've been affected by way too much death in my life and most of that has been a genuine tragedy that the victim had no choice in. If you choose to risk your life taking party drugs, and draw the short straw, I'm not sure tragedy is quite the right word. I've experienced real tragedies and when you are willingly taking the risk, this doesn't seem to qualify. It is still awful but let's not call it bad luck or shocking, as it is an entirely foreseeable possibility. You had every chance to avoid your fate by not putting an unknown and unregulated chemical concoction into your body.
An analogous example is the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran for drug trafficking in Indonesia. While I have a number of concerns with the Indonesian legal system, I know what law is around drug trafficking and I know that I value my life much too highly to take a chance there. Leading up to their deaths, there was considerable public and political outcry about the morality of the death penalty, the role of the AFP and the antics of some of our pollies. What wasn’t spoken about much was that the two unfortunate men had knowingly made a risky decision and were going to pay with their lives for it.
Advocates of MDMA are going to argue that properly produced, it is actually quite a safe drug and events such as this just prove it should be legalised. My kneejerk reaction to any argument of legalisation of drugs has always been negative, but I have certainly read some quite compelling arguments against zero tolerance policies, so I am open to alternative approaches. But that doesn't change anything about the current situation. As they are unregulated and uncontrolled right now, party drugs are dangerous and if you choose to take them you are accepting a risk.
As I have kept this short, I am sure drug advocates can rip into this piece with reductio arguments comparing use of party drugs to other types of risk taking behaviours, especially alcohol, but I think that is a little disingenuous. It does not counter the central thesis that a drug overdose is not some kind of tragic unavoidable event. It is entirely avoidable and as such, festival organisers are only marginally responsible for the choices their patrons make. Moreover, the more we talk about macro-situational factors, the less individual accountability is mentioned. And people, especially young people need to be reminded often that they are responsible for their own choices.
We each have great power to choose much of our own destinies and, to quote from Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Because the bottom line is when you make bad choices to take unnecessary risks, you can wreck your life. The more we try to downplay or rationalise the decision to take drugs and blame other situational factors, the more we get away from this really important lesson people need to remember. When the lesson isn’t heard or heeded, there is a risk that we will see more people ruining their lives taking unnecessarily risky choices.