Legalising pill testing won't green light illicit drugs or normalise their use, a drug addiction academic has told a NSW inquest.
Ahead of her attendance at the annual north coast Splendour in the Grass music festival, Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame on Friday heard from three expert witnesses on the impacts of legalising such services.
The inquest into six drug-related deaths at festivals also heard evidence that likened the effect of police strip searches to the trauma of a sexual assault.
Edith Cowan University psychologist Stephen Bright told the inquiry pill testing offered a way to counsel young people about illicit drug use.
"The evidence we have is pill testing doesn't give the green light or normalise drug use," he said.
"With one in 10 people having already used ecstasy, drug use is already normalised."
Alex Ross-King, Nathan Tran, Diana Nguyen, Joseph Pham, Joshua Tam and Callum Brosnan all died after consuming multiple MDMA capsules at NSW festivals between December 2017 and January 2019.
Dr Bright described his running of an underground service at a Victorian music festival, amid an influx of wrongly-labelled MDMA capsules.
Three people died and 20 others were hospitalised in January 2017 after capsules filled with hallucinogen 25I-NBOMe were fraudulently sold as MDMA in Melbourne's busy Chapel Street district.
The West Australian academic said his ad-hoc service used rudimentary reagent testing kits but still allowed a method to engage young people about risks.
"We said we don't know what's in this particular capsule but we think this is what it is," Dr Bright said.
"(If it wasn't what they expected) most people just simply threw out their capsules then and there."
Harm reduction campaigner Will Tregoning said on-site reagent testing had its place but NSW would be better served having a laboratory-style checking service in an urban area to reduce costs, produce more accurate testing and allow more people access.
He said a key problem with the current hardline drug policy was a "perpetual acceptance of failure under a combat or war-based metaphor" that allowed people in power to shirk responsibility.
"We know that in practice (scaring people into stopping drug use) is not effective, as we have tragically found here," he told the inquest.
Mr Tregoning said drug detection dogs and police strip searches at festivals could cause more harm than good.
He said he'd spoken with people who described the experience of being ordered to undress in front of police as akin to the trauma of being sexually assaulted.
"My concern is it additionally trains people to not trust police," he said, adding most officers held a very strong sense of social service and wanted to help.
He said drug searches may create "a climate of fear" and create further barriers between young people and those trying to protect them.
The mental harm of strip searches occurred regardless of whether the people were concealing or not, researcher Peta Malins said.
"They talk about how huge the effect can be emotionally, the anxiety, the fear, increased hear rate, sweaty palms, shaking and nervousness," the RMIT criminology lecturer said.
She said those strip-searched found it "particularly dehumanising".
Ms Grahame will travel to Yelgun on Saturday to view policing and medical measures at Splendour in the Grass.
One of Australia's largest music festivals will also host a drug checking demonstration, though no illicit substances will be processed.
The coronial inquest will resume in September with Ms Grahame to hand down her findings in October.
Australian Associated Press