Introduction: Despite increasing evidence challenging the effectiveness and legality of police drug dog operations, these strategies remain common. We aimed to describe drug dog encounters at music festivals, behavioural adaptations taken in anticipation of their presence and consequences of encounters amongst a sample of people who regularly use MDMA/ecstasy.
Methods: Data were collected via interviewer-administered questionnaires in April–June 2019. Australians aged 16 years or older who used MDMA/ecstasy and/or other stimulants monthly in the last 6 months were recruited from capital cities via social media and word-of-mouth (n = 797). Participants reported recent drug dog encounters, encounter settings and actions taken in anticipation of and in response to encounters.
Results: In this sample, encounters with drug dogs at festivals were common (60%), with most participants (92%) reporting anticipating the encounter. Most (86%) of this group reported behavioural adaptations to avoid a detection, with concealing drugs well (57%) and consuming prior to entering the festival (20%) most reported. Only 4% of those who expected drug dog presence chose not to carry or consume drugs. One-quarter (26%) of those who reported an encounter were stopped by police and 4% were searched (bodily/bag search).
Discussion and Conclusion: Most participants anticipated drug dog presence at festivals, however, were not deterred from carrying or consuming drugs. Some reported adaptations to avoid detection may increase drug-related health, social and legal harms. Our study suggests drug dog presence at festivals does not deter carriage/use of illegal drugs, and echoes concerns regarding the efficacy and appropriateness of this policing initiative.
- drug detection dogs
- harm reduction