- 06 Aug 19
"We urgently need to have a conversation about festival pill-testing," says Hot Press' Stuart Clark
Irish music fans are in mourning following the death yesterday of Jack Downey, a 19-year-old from Clonmel who fell ill after taking an as-yet-unknown substance at Indiependence in Mitchelstown.
Jack, who’d sought help on Friday at the festival’s medical tent, was transferred to Cork University Hospital where he was immediately placed on a ventilator.
On hearing of Jack being taken ill, the Indiependence organisers issued an emergency welfare notice saying: "We have reports of a bad batch of something in the campsite, do not consume any substances that you are unsure about, it has the potential to make you very sick. Please be careful and look after each other."
“Our condolences go out to Jack’s friends and family,” reflects Hot Press Deputy Editor Stuart Clark. “All the tributes speak of a friendly, outgoing young guy who loved his music. This is a tragedy that could have happened at any Irish music festival. While it’s impossible to say whether it would have helped Jack, Hot Press has long been in favour of specialist drug outreaches and pill testing at Irish festivals, which can serve as an early warning system if any dodgy pills or powders are doing the rounds. It’s a conversation that promoters, service providers, politicians, the Gardai and gig-goers urgently need to have.”
“It’s so very sad,” says Dawn Russell, the Ana Liffey Drug Project Head of Services who’s also from Clonmel. “Jack was known to many of my friends and family. His death has hit our town hard and leaves us searching for answers. We must talk openly and maturely to young people about drugs to keep them as safe as possible. RIP.”
Ana Liffey is providing outreach services at the upcoming Electric Picnic, but despite wanting to do so will have to wait for the Misuse of Drugs Act to be amended before they can also offer pill-testing.
"Drug checking could increase opportunities for info/advice/support for people who use drugs," reflects Ana Liffey CEO, Tony Duffin. "It could provide them, medics and other professionals with realtime info on what’s in the drugs in circulation. Taking drugs at festivals is a different experience for people as they are not at home using drugs under their usual circumstances and this presents all sorts of increased risks. The tragic death of a teenager on Monday afternoon, who had allegedly taken a substance at the Indiependence music festival on Friday in Cork, brings into sharp focus the ultimate risk that people who use drugs at festivals take.
"It is, of course, safer not to use drugs at all," he continues. "However, some people will continue to do so. As such, the provision of Festival Welfare services is a key response that should be available, alongside medics, at all relevant public events. There should be trained people providing attendees with a range of information, advice and supports.
As grim coincidence would have it, festival drug taking is highlighted in the latest #SaferFromHarm video by actor, comedian and broadcaster PJ Gallagher, which we'll be premiering later this afternoon on hotpress.com. In the meantime, here are PJ's broader thoughts on the subject: