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Experts recommend pilot programme to test drugs at music festivals

Policy change could mean more active drug testing at large events

  • Aneesa Ahmed
  • 20 September 2021
Experts recommend pilot programme to test drugs at music festivals

According to a new report, issued by The Health and Safety Executive National Social Inclusion Office, the government should set up a pilot programme to test drugs at music festivals.

The report suggests a limited trial operation at festivals, dubbed anonymous "back of house" drug testing, in which tests are performed on drugs put into amnesty bins or upon security seizures, with no direct contact with users.

These are separate from "front of house" drug testing systems, where users voluntarily take their drugs to be analysed.

Should the pilot evaluation of a back of house system prove positive, this may then support the development of a full front of house approach for festival settings.

A front of house strategy has been shown to engage hard-to-reach individuals with health services, including people who would not have had any previous intervention for their substance use.

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The HSE prepared two proposals to pilot Ireland's first front of house testing initiatives at two festivals in 2019, according to the report, however, these ideas "were unable to proceed due to legal issues."

The back of house idea, it added, would need less formal policy modifications and had been discussed with the Department of Justice.

According to the paper, this method might provide an anonymous and safe drop-off site, with health care experts on hand to provide information and assistance.

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The report, where the findings are based in Ireland, has identified music festivals as a "risk-taking environment" where partygoers are likely to experiment with illegal drugs.

It stated that the “increased purity and potency” of goods, particularly high-strength MDMA, was a source of worry.

It also noted an increase in other drugs including ketamine, as well as 2-CB and GHB, and voiced concern about a poly-drug culture here that involves the usage of numerous substances simultaneously.

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According to the paper, a later HSE study of Irish festivals conducted in 2021 revealed that 94% of respondents had taken drugs at a festival and that more than a quarter had fallen ill as a result of their usage. It found a high level of willingness among people to engage with drug-checking services.

The report concluded: “The Working Group concludes that drug checking is a beneficial prevention and harm reduction measure that should be considered as an extension of current health structures. A pilot project is recommended in a festival setting initially through a ‘back of house’ approach.”

It added: “Should the pilot evaluation of a ‘back of house’ system prove positive, a comprehensive front of house approach should be considered.”

Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

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