Can the testing of drugs on-site at music festivals help to prevent drug related deaths?
Two people lost their lives at Mutiny music festival in Portsmouth over the weekend after being admitted to hospital for drug related complications. 18-year-old Georgia Jones and 20-year-old Tommy Cowan were named as the victims and were thought to have taken “pills” in the lead up to their deaths.
The festival was subsequently cancelled with a spokesperson confirming that “Following the terrible news from earlier today, the team behind Mutiny Festival are incredibly sad to announce that the Sunday of the festival has been cancelled as a safety precaution.”
Drug consumption is common at UK music festivals, but should there be more safeguards in place to protect young attendees who are likely to encounter drugs during these events? One company, The Loop, think offering on-site drug testing could help reduce risks to drug takers at festivals, but is this approach effective?
The Loop is a not for profit “Community Interest” company who offer a service at music festivals that tells drug users the exact chemical makeup of their drugs.
Dr Henry Fisher, a senior chemist at the company, told the BBC that The Loop, “operate a tent where festival goers can come and drop off a small sample of the drugs that are in their possession. That sample then gets passed to our lab which is staffed by a team of trained chemists where we analyse it for its identity, its purity and its strength if it happens to be an ecstacy pill.”
He went on say that “we then communicate the results of those tests back to the service users with a team of experienced drug workers and healthcare professions as part of a 15 minute counselling session.”
When taking drugs in pill form, it’s often very difficult to be sure of its makeup. It’s incredibly rare for a drug user to be aware of the exact strength of the pill they’re taking. There has also been a surge in circulation of higher strength ecstasy pills in recent years, with pills containing amounts around 200mg compared to 85-100gm which is a more traditional per pill dose.
“This illustrates the lottery of taking unregulated illegal drugs” according to Trevor Shine of Tictac Drug Identification centre in London who warned drug users to be wary of the increasing potency of the MDMA currently circulating Britain.
The Loop’s service seems incredibly convenient and positive, offering festivalgoers a lab of fully trained chemists and offering on-site, expert-led consultations on what their drugs contain and how to keep themselves safe.
But are they adding to a culture of “acceptance” at festivals in which the consumption of illegal substances en masse is considered the norm? Taking steps to ensure that no drugs at all are taken would surely be a more effective way of reducing drug-related fatalities.
Fisher acknowledges that, of course, not taking drugs reduces your chances of drug-related harm to “zero” but that The Loop is there to step in once people have already made the decision to buy substances and to help inform them of the dangers.
“At the festival we were operating at this last weekend” he says, “13% of people handed over the rest of their drugs” a further 50% of people then said they would take less than they had planned to”. The Loop were present at three festivals last year and hope to be part of six in 2018.
There are many other organisations out there joining the fight to try and make drug consumption safer. Adam Winstock, a consultant psychiatrist and founder of the Global Drug Survey wants to educate drug users on potential risks.
“sometimes people mistake more of a drug with a more enjoyable experience. That’s not the case. When you have pills of two or three hundred milligrams floating around, of course don’t be daft, start with a half, or sometimes even a quarter, in order for you to figure out how you’re responding to that particular drug at that particular dose”
Back in 2016 Winstock teamed up with Mixmag to launch the “don’t be daft, start with half” campaign aimed at addressing the risks associated with the increasing strength of ecstasy pills in circulation. While choosing not to consume drugs is the only way to 100% guarantee safety from drug-related harm, these organisations provide invaluable advice for those who want to take substances in the safest manner possible.