- 17 Nov 22
Nearly two-thirds of festivalgoers who learned their drugs did not match what they were sold as decided to dispose of the remaining substances.
Fresh data in the UK has shown that drug-testing facilities at festivals not only creates a safer environment for those who attend, but could actually prevent fatalities.
As well as proving that drug-testing doesn’t lead to more drugs being taken, research carried out by The Loop and Liverpool University published in Drugs, Habits and Social Policy also showed that two-thirds of those who had drugs checked disposed of them if dubious of the contents identified.
Of 4,240 people surveyed at UK festivals in the summer 2018 season, 48.7% of people who found their tested drugs matched what they were sold decided to take a lower dose than originally intended.
If a festival-goer's drugs tested differently to what they expected, 61.7% of people decided to dispose of their remaining drugs.
The Loop festival #drugchecking results 2016-18 are published today @dhspolicy (£0), by @FMeasham & @henrytdsimmons1. Drug checking was available to over 1/4 million UK festivalgoers in 2018.
BIG thanx to all staff, service users, stakeholders & festivals!https://t.co/vXTbFXTBdR pic.twitter.com/PSomACmIXi
— The Loop (@WeAreTheLoopUK) November 8, 2022
Drug-checking is not yet mandatory at festivals but in the face of further fatalities, calls for mandatory testing facilities are growing. This sentiment it seems has been picked up by the HSE here at home, who during this year's Electric Picnic operated the first pilot drug-testing service.
Three alerts were issued as high-potency MDMA and a new substance 3-CMC were detected over the festival weekend, according to the October study results.
As part of their Safer Nightlife harm reduction campaign, festival-goers were invited to anonymously deposit drug samples in HSE bins, which were subjected to rapid analysis.
The MDMA analysed included six identical-looking 'Mybrand' skull pills, which were found to contain between 36mg and 235mg of MDMA. The latter is significantly higher than the average 180mg detected at other European festivals where drug testing is in place. The risks are multiplied by users often taking more than one pill. Interestingly, the average strength of MDMA pills ten years ago was just 102mg, confirming the widely-held belief that potency has increased.
“While this report represents a relatively small number of samples numerically, we must recognise the importance of this pilot project and our findings," reflected Professor Eamon Keenan, HSE National Clinical Lead Addiction Services. “The pilot is a real example of cross sectoral collaboration, where all agencies agreed on the need to collaborate to identify emerging drug trends, with an aim of protecting the health of people attending the event.
“This programme," he adds, "is the first of its kind in Ireland, whereby the HSE accessed substances from people who use drugs to conduct real-time analysis for the purpose of sharing risk communications at a festival. As a result, the HSE were able to quickly share accurate information with the public to encourage harm reduction discussions both in person and online over the course of the event. We obtained quantitative estimates of MDMA being used in Ireland which we have never had access to before, while we engaged with hidden and niche user groups whom we otherwise would not have contact with through traditional addiction services.”
Deigned to be a big success by Electric Picnic organiser Melvin Benn, it's hoped that the HSE pilot will lead to drug testing and harm reduction services becoming a mandatory part of all Irish festival licensing applications.
Nicki Killeen, Emerging Drug Trends Project Manager, HSE National Social Inclusion Office, says: “From a research perspective, it is extremely interesting that we accessed such diversity in the drug samples including very novel compounds. These results provide us with further insight on the changing drug landscape in Ireland. Based on this, it is clear that there is a need to further expand this approach to include more frequent analysis in new settings.
“As the drug market evolves, Ireland must prepare for possible changes and associated health threats with substance analysis having a central role in this process to help us identify concerns and respond at a faster rate to reduce harm.