Harm Minimisation Information


The Drug, The Person, and The Place

The effect a drug will have on the user – positive or negative – depends on a variety of factors, but can broadly be summarised into three groups: The Drug, The Person, and the Place.

Various factors of the consumed drug will impact the effect on the user:

  • Chosen drug (and whether the substance is what you intended to consume)
  • Poly-use (combining multiple drugs)
  • Frequency of use
  • Amount used
  • Purity of drug
  • Route of administration (orally, inhaled, injected etc)

Various factors of the user will impact the effect of the drug when they use it:

  • General health of the person
  • Body size
  • State of Hydration
  • Pre-existing medical conditions
  • Use of other medications
  • Experience with the drug
  • Knowledge of the drug

The Place refers to external factors that can influence a person’s experience when using a drug. Examples of the place are:

  • Location of the experience
  • Intensity of stimuli
  • Control over stimuli
  • Social group person is with
  • Temperature
  • Humidity

Types of drugs and general effects

Having basic knowledge about drugs can help you make safer choices & know how to help a mate in need.

Broadly, drugs can be labelled into three types. Stimulants, Depressants and Hallucinogens. Some drugs can be multiple types. Labels are differentiated by the effects the drug have on the central nervous system as well as physical and phycological effects. The Drugs Wheel below breaks these categories down further.

Outer ring: Effects by category

Middle ring: Traditional psychoactive substances

Inner ring: Newer psychoactive substances


Examples: amphetamine, MDMA, cocaine, caffeine, tobacco (AKA: Speed, Dexxies, Meth, Ice, Tina, Shard, Coke, Blow, Pingas, Dingas, Caps, Coffee

Stimulants are drugs that have a stimulating effect on the central nervous system. This means there are increased transmitters in the brain and from your brain to your body, making your body and mind more active.

Effects include:

  • Increased heart rate & breathing
  • Increased body temperature
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased muscle tension
  • Increased sensitivity/alertness to stimuli
  • Confusion
  • Decreased appetite
  • Short-term energy boost
  • Increased sociability sexual desire and performance

Caring for someone under the influence of a stimulant

  • Encourage help-seeking behaviour including;
    • peer-based support
    • onsite medical services including ambulance
    • call Triple Zero (000)
  • Find out what the person has had, how much, and when the last dose was taken
  • Reassure the person
  • Watch for changes
  • Remain calm, patient, and supportive
  • Avoid hostile or aggressive tone and/or stance
  • Encourage them to sip water – monitor, how much they consume
  • Do not douse them in water
  • If in doubt at any time do not hesitate to seek medical attention.

Signs requiring medical assistance or referral to emergency medical service

  • The person is not conscious of their behaviour
  • The person’s breathing has changed
  • They have signs of heart problems
  • They are showing signs of drug overdose:
    • Hot and can’t cool down
    • Clammy skin
    • Dry, red (or pale), hot skin (stopped sweating)
    • Dry mouth
    • Blue/purple lips
    • Eyes rolling back/obvious eye ‘wobbles’
    • Foot/leg is uncontrollably shaking
    • Rigid muscles
    • Unable to walk unassisted
    • Locked jaw or repeated jaw clenching (even if otherwise well)

Serotonin Syndrome

Serotonin syndrome is a potentially deadly condition that can occur after using some stimulant drugs- particularly MDMA.

Some signs and symptoms include (but are not exclusive or limited to):

  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heart rate and high blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of muscle coordination or twitching muscles
  • Muscle rigidity (stiffness)
  • Heavy sweating- a very important sign, even on hot days
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Shivering
  • Goosebumps

Severe serotonin syndrome can be life-threatening. Severe signs and symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Unconsciousness
  • You should immediately seek medical attention for anyone with the above symptoms


Example: GHB, Alcohol, Cannabis, Benzodiazepines (Xanax, valium etc), Ketamine

AKA: G, Juice, booze, pot, weed, Xans, bars, Ket, K, Special K, heroin, smack, gear, oxy, codeine

Depressants are drugs that have a depressant effect on the central nervous system. They cause a decrease of electric signals in the brain and from your brain to your body, making your body more relaxed and lowering your consciousness.

Effects include:

  • Decreased heart rate & breathing
  • Decreased body temperature
  • Decreased muscle tension
  • Decreased sensitivity/alertness to stimuli
  • Confusion
  • Numbness
  • Loss of motor skills and coordination
  • Dissociation
  • Sense of calm and serenity
  • Abstract and disjointed thinking

Caring for someone under the influence of a depressant

  • Encourage help-seeking behaviour
  • Find out what the person has had, how much, and when the last dose was taken
  • Encourage them to sip water – monitor, how much they consume
  • Do not douse them in water – this can lead to hypothermia
  • If they are vomiting, monitor how much liquid they expel
  • Be cautious of them sleeping. If they do fall asleep
    • make sure they are in the recovery position (below)
    • rouse them regularly (at least every 20 minutes)
    • monitor breathing
  • If they become unrousable, seek medical attention
  • Don’t give water/food to a drowsy/unconscious person

Signs requiring medical assistance or referral to emergency medical service

  • The person is not conscious of their behaviour
  • The person’s breathing has changed
  • They have signs of heart problems
  • They are showing signs of drug overdose:
    • Hot and can’t cool down
    • Clammy skin
    • Dry, red (or pale), hot skin (stopped sweating)
    • Dry mouth
    • Blue/purple lips
    • Eyes rolling back/obvious eye ‘wobbles’
    • Foot/leg is uncontrollably shaking
    • Rigid muscles
    • Unable to walk unassisted
    • Locked jaw or repeated jaw clenching (even if otherwise well)


Examples: LSD, DMT, Psilocybin, 2CB etc.

AKA: Acid, trips, tabs, changa, Dimitri, mushrooms, shrooms, gold tops, blue meanies

Hallucinogens are drugs that have an interfering effect on the central nervous system. This means this class of drug interfered with the way electrical signals are transferred in the brain and from your brain to your body, causing changes in perception of reality and thinking.

Psychedelics affect all the senses, especially auditory and visual senses, often leading to hallucinations. Psychedelics alter the way we think, our sense of time, and our emotions. It is likely that each experience will be unique and therefore unpredictable. Even if you’ve taken a psychedelic many times before, psychedelic experiences can be unique and unpredictable.

Effects include:

  • Stimulant or depressant effects on heart rate and blood pressure
  • Effects depend on the experience of The Person
  • Confusion / Anxiety
  • Intense perception of sensations in/on the body
  • Meaningful spiritual experiences
  • Ego death (complete loss of sense of who you are)
  • Paranoia, fear and panic
  • Visual hallucinations / kaleidoscopic colours
  • Dizziness and unsteadiness

Caring for someone under the influence of a hallucinogen/psychedelic

  • Reassure the person
  • Remain calm, patient, and supportive by:
    • Meeting their physical needs- warmth, food, water.
    • Project a calm confident demeanour- slowing down your speech,
    • Take them to a lower stimulus environment
    • Help them focus on slow steady breathing,
    • Use closed not open questions
    • Acknowledge their experience and don’t deny it, or tell them to calm down

Signs requiring medical assistance or referral to emergency medical service

  • The person is not conscious of their behaviour
  • The person’s breathing has changed
  • They have signs of heart problems
  • They are showing signs of drug overdose:
    • Hot and can’t cool down
    • Clammy skin
    • Dry, red (or pale), hot skin (stopped sweating)
    • Dry mouth
    • Blue/purple lips
    • Eyes rolling back/obvious eye ‘wobbles’
    • Foot/leg is uncontrollably shaking
    • Rigid muscles
    • Unable to walk unassisted
    • Locked jaw or repeated jaw clenching (even if otherwise well)

Polydrug Use

Polydrug use is when a person uses more than one type of drug, either at the same time or one after another in the same session.

Polydrug use occurs when a person:

  • uses two or more drugs in combination
  • uses one drug to counteract the effects (or the after-effects) of another
  • uses different drugs at different times over a short period

Polydrug use can multiply the risks of individual substances. For example, combining depressants: Consuming GHB and alcohol together massively increases the risk of both.

Fatal overdose as the depressants work together to slow down both the heart and breathing rate and nonfatal overdose, which can result in permanent brain damage.

GHB & alcohol are particularly dangerous to combine as they use the same metabolic pathway. This means GHB can build up in your liver while the alcohol is processed, and then be released all at once in a dangerous overdose.

Other examples are using two stimulants together or using a stimulant and a depressant together.

A useful resource on drug combinations is https://combo.tripsit.me.

As a general rule dangerous combinations include:

  • Depressants with more depressants
  • Stimulants with more stimulants
  • Depressants & stimulants

Other Harm Minimisation


People subconsciously mirror each other’s behaviours and energy levels. This means if you bring aggressive energy, or meet someone else’s aggressive energy with aggression- you will get…. more aggression! If you consciously lower your energy level and remain calm, they are likely to follow suit.

You can do this by:

  • Slowing your breathing and bringing your awareness to your body
  • Do not launch into an attack or a defence, even if they are super wrong, take a moment of silence.
  • Gentle eye contact – be mindful that intense eye contact may be threatening.
  • Body language – relaxed, open hands, humble expression
  • Be mindful of your triggers, reactions, and how you personally deal with conflict. Here’s a hint – very few people in the world deal with conflict and criticism well – myself included.
  • Sometimes standing at an angle rather than front on can be less aggressive
  • Leaving the situation

Disarming is to take the heat/risk out of a situation or conversation. To better approach a tense, agitated or aggressive patron, try to remember the following phrase:

Thank F*ck for Vexatious Guy’s Advice.

T – Thanking someone for their confrontation

F – Finding some truth in criticism

V – Validating an aggressor’s feelings

G – Giving that person undeserved credit

A – Accepting more responsibility for a situation than you might deserve

Continue to remind yourself that this is nothing to do with you and everything to do with the person in front of you who has their own unresolved traumas and grief and anger.

Often a group situation can exacerbate tensions. It may be necessary for these situations to contact management via radio and/or seek support from other staff or care teams to keep friends and bystanders calm and as distanced from the patron as possible. Try not to draw unnecessary attention that can again make a situation quite performative.

Sexual Violence

What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence refers to any activity of a sexual nature that is unwelcome, unwanted or not consented to. Sexual violence is an umbrella term that includes sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.

Sexual violence is not mutual or consensual interaction, flirtation or friendship.

Sexual violence can include but is not limited to, actions such as:

  • Prolonged staring or leering
  • Repeated requests for a date or sexual interaction
  • Displaying pornography
  • Unwanted kissing or touching
  • Sexualised verbal comments and jokes
  • Stalking or following someone
  • Indecent exposure or ‘flashing’
  • Public masturbation
  • Rubbing up against someone
  • Groping and sexual touching – for example, touching someone’s breasts, buttocks or genitals. This includes being forced to touch someone else.
  • Non-consensual sexual intercourse, including oral, anal and vaginal sex. This includes penetration using fingers and objects.

Sexual assault and rape are offences in all states and territories in Australia. All forms of sexual violence are harmful and should be treated seriously. Importantly, it is critical that we intervene appropriately to the full range of sexual violence. Research has consistently demonstrated that intervening in instances of harassment can make a setting less conducive to more ‘serious’ forms of sexual violence.

How common is sexual violence?

We know that sexual violence is extremely common in Australian society.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, at least 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men will experience sexual violence in Australia across their lives. Sexual harassment is even more common, with over half of Australian women having experienced harassment.

Women are disproportionately the victims of sexual violence, and men disproportionately the perpetrators. However, it is important to keep in mind that anyone can experience sexual violence.

People can also be targeted for sexual violence because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, and disability status. Sexual violence can co-occur with racist, homophobic, transphobic and ableist violence. Members of these groups often face a higher risk of experiencing sexual violence.

Victims are never responsible for sexual violence. Sexual violence occurs regardless of what someone is wearing, how much they have had to drink, or whether they were ‘flirting’ with a perpetrator. No one ‘asks’ to be sexually violated. Responsibility for sexual violence always lies with the perpetrator.

What do we know about sexual violence at music festivals?

Recent Australian research shows that sexual violence is likely to be very common at music festivals.

This study found that 95.1% of young people thought that sexual harassment occurs at music festivals, while 88.6% thought that sexual assault happens at festivals.

Behaviours such as unwanted touching and groping – especially in crowded areas – are frequently experienced by young people at music festivals.

While sexual violence can happen anywhere, some features of music festivals can make it easier for perpetrators to engage in this behaviour. For example, because festivals are often very crowded, it can be difficult for victims to identify their perpetrator.

Perpetrators can easily disappear into the crowd, and unwanted touching can be excused as ‘accidental’. Secluded and poorly-lit areas such as campsites can also be taken advantage of by perpetrators.

How are music festivals addressing these issues?

The AFA has Harm Reduction training available for festival organisers to provide staff, volunteers and patrons training. The AFA has also contributed to a new resource from the Pennington Institute that provides a toolkit for organisers to address these issues onsite.

Some festivals have implemented safe spaces at their festivals.

Ask for Angela is a campaign rolled out across many venues and is in operation at some festival bars.

What about drugs and alcohol?

Drug and alcohol use are common at music festivals.

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol can also be used to facilitate sexual violence. For example, drink spiking with strong alcohol or other drugs is commonly used to incapacitate and take advantage of targets.

Drugs and alcohol can also be used by perpetrators to excuse their behaviour and to minimise responsibility for their actions with a common claim in such circumstances being that they didn’t realise what they were doing because they were “off their face”.

On the other hand, victims who have consumed alcohol or drugs are often blamed for their experience. This is a major reason behind incredibly low levels of reporting of sexual violence. Legally, a person who is intoxicated is considered incapable of giving consent to sex. Intoxication is not an excuse for a perpetrator’s actions – responsibility for sexual violence always lies with the perpetrator.

How to respond to disclosures

Most people who experience sexual violence do not report to authorities. In fact, 85% of victims never report their experience.

One reason for these low reporting rates is that victims often experience negative responses when they do report. For example, they might not be believed or taken seriously, or are blamed for their own experience.

Negative or inappropriate responses to the disclosure can amplify the harms of sexual violence.

Because of this, it is extremely important that you respond appropriately if someone reports an incident of sexual violence to you. Appropriate responses include:

  • Always believe the victim and take them seriously: remember, it is not your responsibility to judge whether a criminal offence has occurred. Likewise, while some victims may be visibly distressed or upset, others may be calm and collected. There is no one way that an individual will react to experiencing sexual violence. Your role is to ensure the victim receives appropriate support.
  • Acknowledge what has happened to the victim. For example, “I’m really sorry to hear that”.
  • Listen to what the victim has to say.
  • Provide options to the victim in terms of what happens next and support the decision they make. If there are processes in place for how to respond to a report of sexual violence at the festival, ensure you follow these closely. For example, “Can I take you to the medical tent for support” or, “Would you like me to help you make a report”. Remember, not all victims will want to report an incident to the police.

It is never appropriate to:

  • Blame the victim for what has happened.
  • Accuse the victim of lying.
  • Say that the incident wasn’t ‘serious’ enough to respond to.
  • Say that there is nothing you can do to help the victim.
  • Try to justify, excuse, or downplay the perpetrator’s actions.
  • Make assumptions about someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

Being an active bystander

Because the vast majority of victims do not report their experiences, it is important to recognise the role that you can play as an active bystander.

An active bystander is someone who witnesses sexual violence occurring or a situation where sexual violence is at-risk of occurring and takes steps to intervene. Intervention can occur before, during or after an incident of sexual violence has happened.

When acting as a bystander, your own safety is paramount. You should never intervene in a way that makes you feel unsafe or that escalates a situation.

Bystander intervention assumes that we all have a role to play in preventing and responding to sexual violence. However, many people are reluctant to intervene because they don’t think it’s their place, or because they are unsure of what to do.

What strategies can you use to intervene?

Try to remember the ‘5 D’s of intervention’, developed by the organisation Hollaback:

  1. Distract: is there something you can do to create a distraction or diversion? This is important to prevent direct confrontation that may lead to aggression targeted at you or the victim. It can also provide an opportunity for a victim to move away from an unsafe situation without drawing more unwanted attention.
  2. Delegate: is there someone else in a position of authority who can help? This might include calling security, police, or peer-support volunteers such as DanceWize to help. It is important that you understand your limits. Only intervene directly when you are confident to do so and can do so safely.
  3. Document: can you record what is happening to provide evidence? For example, this might include taking photo or video footage, or ensuring there are adequate CCTV provisions on the festival site. Always provide the footage to the victim – never circulate images you have taken without the victim’s consent as this can extend harm experienced.
  4. Delay: can you provide support to the victim after an incident has occurred? Although the incident itself wasn’t stopped, you can provide support in the aftermath. For example, ask the victim if there is anything you can do to help or support them. Can you help them locate support services or police? Stay with them until friends or other care arrives.
  5. Direct: if it is safe, can you directly confront the perpetrator? This might include ‘calling out’ the perpetrator and saying that what they are doing is wrong or asking them to leave. If intervening directly, ensure that the victim is safe BEFORE you make contact as there is a risk that confrontation can escalate a situation.

There is no one ‘best’ way to respond as a bystander – use the 5D’s like a toolbox to draw on if you need to intervene. Use whichever strategies you feel most comfortable and safe within the moment.

You can find more information on how to intervene as a bystander here: https://www.ihollaback.org/bystander-resources/

You can also consider taking part in training on bystander intervention:

Bystander training for people working in the music industry: https://www.cohealth.org.au/access-all-areas/#bystander-training

Bystander training for members of the general public: https://www.itsnotacompliment.com/bystander-intervention-training

Ask for Angela

The program allows patrons to ask staff at participating venues for a woman called Angela if they feel unsafe, with the code word meant to alert trained staff to discreetly escort the person to safety. If a patron asks for Angela, this means they are feeling unsafe, and need to be escorted to safety immediately.

AFA Festival Harm Reduction Quiz

The AFA, in conjunction with our members, Dancewize, Red Cross save-a-mate and the ADF have developed Harm Reduction content and quiz. We are on a mission to ensure as many people at festivals understand some basic Harm Min concepts to ensure everyone remains safe.

AFA members are training staff, suppliers and security on their festival sites with this resource, as well as patrons in exchange for upgrades, discounts and presale access. Over 20,000 people have completed the quiz (as at 24/01/22).

Anyone can try the quiz by clicking one of the two buttons below.