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Onsite testing of Drugs can help reduce drug-related deaths in Music Festivals

Onsite testing of Drugs can help reduce drug-related deaths in Music Festivals

by Shruthi Venkatesh December 13 2018, 6:44 pm Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 0 secs

Hospital admissions down 95 percent after onsite drug testing at a festival in Cambridgeshire. According to a first of its kind academic study, an alarming rise in drug-related deaths at music festivals can be countered by testing illicit substances onsite. The Secret Garden Party, an annual independent arts and music festival which took place in Cambridgeshire, in the year 2016 – sold drug infused foods among one in five which was proved by the Testers.  Samples contained ketamine instead of cocaine, while a drug sold as MDMA turned out to be n-ethylpentylone, a long-lasting cathinone that can cause anxiety, paranoia, insomnia and psychosis. Others contained pharmaceuticals and cutting agents such as anti-malaria medication, as well as less harmful ingredients such as brown sugar and plaster of paris.


According to the study, 247 drug samples were brought in anonymously by festivalgoers. Test results revealed that one in five substances was not as sold or acquired. One in five service users utilised the disposal service for further substances of concern in their possession and another one in six moderated their consumption. Two thirds of those whose sample was missold disposed of further substances, compared with less than one in ten whose sample was as sold. Service users who acquired substances onsite at the festival were more than twice as likely to have been missold them as those acquired offsite, were nearly twice as likely to use the disposal service and were on average two years younger. Women were more likely to be using the drug for the first time and more likely to use the disposal service. Test results were shared with emergency services; alerts issued across site and an unanticipated feedback loop occurred to some drug suppliers.

When the Multi Agency Safety Testing took place at the Secret Garden Party, UK drug-related deaths and festival drug-related deaths reached their highest on record. “The service not only identifies and informs service users about the contents of their submitted sample and provides them with direct harm reduction advice but this pilot tells us they spread the information to their friends,” said Fiona Measham from Durham University’s Department of Sociology, and director of The Loop, a non-profit social enterprise.

It is said that drug-safety testing have been resisted by many major event organisations, but Measham stated the usefulness of the study. The best part is that the Festivalgoers have been alarmed in a quick span of time on social medias right after it was identified by onsite chemists. “Alerts are also shared on social media and via medical and other staff at the festival so the message can spread far and wide. We now have evidence that people who sell drugs at festivals are twice as likely to rip off the public and we can provide evidence-based alerts that not only warn people about specific drugs but also about specific drug markets,” says Measham.

Freddie Fellowes, owner of the Secret Garden Party, said the results bolstered calls for drug testing to be made available at all major events. “The Secret Garden Party was incredibly proud to be a part of the first meaningful advance in over 20 years in harm reduction strategy, the results of which surpassed even our hope and expectations. In the future this facility should be required at all large events, not fought for.”

Some critics argue that these kinds of public drug-safety tests would encourage more people to consume illegal drugs but Measham further insisted that the safest way to take drugs was not to take them at all.

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