Festivals urged to test safety of illegal drugs

Every music festival and nightclub should offer drug safety testing to minimise the risk to the health of those using illegal drugs, public health experts will recommend today. Although drug testing has become more common, such as via Health Street in Mesa, AZ and many other locations, the testing of drugs themselves in terms of safety isn’t as common as it should be. During festivals and similar events, drug use is expected, so the testing of these should be welcomed with open arms.

The Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) said that testing would allow drug users to establish the content and strength of substances, particularly those about which they had concerns.

Its report said that drug safety testing pilot schemes at the Secret Garden Party and Kendal Calling festivals last summer, with the support of local police and public health officials, reduced the amount of potentially harmful substances circulating on site.

The results, to be published later this month in the RSPH’s Public Health journal, suggest that almost one in five users opted to dispose of their drugs after testing them.

The RSPH said that introducing such services at festivals and nightclubs would help to reduce the risk to health resulting from recreational drug taking. It added that testing facilities should become a standard feature in city centre night clubs where drugs are in common use.

It highlighted that a rise in deaths in England and Wales linked to Ecstasy had been associated with an increase in the average strength of the pills.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH, said: “The rise in drug-related deaths at music festivals and night clubs is a growing problem for policy-makers, health authorities and events companies alike.

“While the use of stimulant ‘club drugs’ such as Ecstasy can never be safe, and RSPH supports ongoing efforts to prevent them entering entertainment venues, we accept that a certain level of use remains inevitable in such settings. We therefore believe that a pragmatic, harm reduction response is necessary.”

The Loop, which provided the drug testing service for the pilot projects last summer, expects to extend the facilities to about eight festivals in the UK this summer.

Ms Cramer said: “The pilots carried out by The Loop last summer suggest providing drug safety testing facilities to festivalgoers and nightclubbers is a promising part of the equation in preventing these deaths, both by exposing and reducing the circulation of super strength or adulterated pills, and by providing an opportunity to impart practical harm reduction advice to an audience who would not normally engage with drug services.

“We urge events companies to make these facilities a standard part of the UK festival and clubbing landscape, and we urge both local and national police and public health authorities to provide the support that will enable this.”

Fiona Measham, professor of criminology at Durham University and director of The Loop, said: “We believe that prioritising public health over criminal justice for drug users at a time of growing concern about drug-related deaths at festivals and nightclubs can help to reduce drug-related harm both on and off site.”