A leading emergency doctor has slammed the NSW government's ultimatum to festival organisers that they will be shut down if drug overdoses continue, saying it will push festivals underground and lead to more deaths.
Dr David Caldicott, an emergency specialist at Canberra's Calvary Hospital, said the proposal advocated by NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant and backed by Premier Mike Baird was based in the regressive ideology of drug prohibition, which he likened to the "ideological equivalent to climate change denialism".
"What will happen is that these festivals will go ahead, they just won't go ahead in any sort of supervised environment," he said.
"You'll get what happened in the United States in the 1980s which was a wide variety of unsupervised raves and a vast number of people getting hurt and killed."
On Sunday, Mr Baird declared "enough was enough" after a 23-year-old woman was taken to hospital with a suspected MDMA overdose at the Field Day music festival, where 184 people were charged with drug offences.
Mr Baird flagged an overhaul of musical festival permit system, telling the Sunday Telegraph he would call on "relevant ministers to review the current system of regulating events held on public land, including the system for granting permits for public events such as music festivals".
Dr Caldicott, who has been a vocal advocate of the introduction of pill-testing at festivals, described the threat to shut down non-compliant festivals as "the last dying throes of prohibitionists".
"There are so many other things that are far more intelligent that we can do before banning music festivals. It's right up there with police dogs as an idea – it's unlikely to have any effect whatsoever and it's probably going to cause more deaths. So at least law enforcement in NSW is being consistent.
"At the moment, the health policy in Australia is create a drug-free Australia, which is ludicrous. It's never happened anywhere else in the world, why do we personally believe it could possibly happen in Australia where more people are using drugs per capita than many places elsewhere in the world?
"It's kind of like the drug equivalent of climate change denialism. The politicians are concerned about how it appears to a very vocal group of prohibitionists."
The recent spate of high profile fatal overdoses at music festivals, including Sydney women Sylvia Choi, 25, in December and Georgina Barrter, 19, at the 2014 Harbourlife festival, has failed to dent the supply and demand for ecstasy, the street name for MDMA.
In the 2015 annual survey of 700 ecstasy users across Australia, conducted by the National Alcohol and Drug Research Centre, 83 per cent of NSW users found it "easy" or "very easy" to buy ecstasy pills, powder or capsules. Nationally, just 8 per cent said the drug was difficult to obtain.
Amanda Roxburgh, who researches methamphetamine-related deaths (which includes ecstasy) at the NADRC, said the market had recovered after a big dip in ecstasy availability throughout 2009-2010, but synthetic drugs were emerging as a leading cause for concern.
"Part of what has happened in that time is the massive emergence of newer analog drugs," which are chemically analogous to ecstasy but have been slightly changed to get around criminal legislation and detection, she said.
"Often what happens is people are buying what they think is ecstasy and it's something much more toxic."
Ms Roxburgh said data collection of ecstasy-related deaths was stymied by backlogs in coronial inquests and the high demand on forensic testing. The latest available data is from 2010, when 18 people died nationally from methamphetamine as the primary cause of such death, but is not further broken down into ecstasy-related deaths.
The last comprehensive analysis of ecstasy-related deaths, published in 2009, revealed 82 deaths between 2000-2005, of which only 19 were considered to be due to ecstasy toxicity alone.
"We do have work in progress trying to update ecstasy-related deaths but we won't capture the most recent deaths because it takes quite some time to go through the coronial processes," Dr Roxburgh said.
"I suspect we are still not going to see that they are large in number."