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Study finds police presence causes 'panic overdoses' at festivals

From 1229 participants, 372 said they intended to use drugs at a festival

  • Aneesa Ahmed
  • 19 November 2021
Study finds police presence causes 'panic overdoses' at festivals

A new study has found that people who are fearful of police presence at music festivals are more likely to consume all of their drugs before arriving on site.

Published in the Drug and Alcohol Review journal this month, the study has found that police and police dog presence generally encouraged higher risk behaviour amongst drug users.

“This study heightens existing concerns regarding unintended harmful consequences of the policing of drug use at festivals,” the study found.

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The study found that there was a significant visible increase in high-risk behaviour amongst those who were using drugs for the first time and males.

Researchers approached attendees at six major music festivals in New South Wales, Australia between November 2019 and March 2020. Attendees completed an anonymous survey on their prior drug use habits and their intended drug use habits for the event.

This included what substances they used, intended narcotic consumption quantities, how they wanted to consume and alcohol consumption. This also included questions about potential high-risk activity- such as preloading (taking all drugs before entering the site) or mixing substances.

They were also asked whether their habits or choices were influenced by police or police dog presence.

The anonymous responses found that of 1229 participants, 372 (30.3%) used or planned to use drugs at the festival.

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MDMA was the most commonly reported drug, with 77% of respondents saying they had either used the drug or had intended to. Other commonly reported drugs included cannabis, cocaine, LSD and ketamine.

Of the 286 of those who said they used or intended to use MDMA, 48% reported double dropping - with men more likely than women to double drop.

22% of those who reported taking drugs also reported high levels of alcohol consumption, another high-risk behaviour.

No drug-related deaths were reported at these events, however, there were some hospitalisations.

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As reported by The Guardian, one of the authors of the study and senior research fellow at the University of NSW, Dr Jonathan Brett, said, “There’s a really growing body of evidence now in Australia that police and police dog presence and security strategies at festivals are actually potentially really harmful".

"I really hope we can have a conversation, not about removing police altogether but potentially about a different approach to policing strategies that aren’t just about criminalising drug users. Everyone wants people to be safer and healthier, so we need to discuss how we can best achieve that".

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This sentiment is echoed by researchers in the UK. Katya Kowalski, Head of Strategy at UK organisation Volteface, told Mixmag: "The research conducted in Australia is certainly applicable to the UK. Our current approach to security drug policing is not working, instilling fear which does little to deter use and promotes more harmful methods of consumption.

"There needs to be more of a consideration to reducing harm through security and actually protecting individuals, rather than instilling panic."

To read the findings of the study, you can find it here.

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

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