Calls for drug safety testing facilities to be ‘standard part’ of festival scene

Music festivals should provide drug testing facilities to help reduce health issues associated with recreational drug use, experts have said.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) said testing facilities should be “standard” at festivals so revellers can test the strength and content of drugs they are considering taking.

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

A festival crowd (Ben Birchall/PA)
A festival crowd (Ben Birchall/PA)

Results of the pilots, to be published later this month in RSPH’s Public Health journal, suggest almost one in five users (18%) opted to dispose of their drugs once aware of the true content.

Service provider The Loop expects to extend the facilities to around eight UK festivals this summer.

The RSPH also believes that such safety testing facilities should also become a standard feature in nightclubs where drug use is common.

It said that a rise in ecstasy deaths in England and Wales – up from 10 in 2010 to 57 in 2015 – has been linked to an increase in the average strength of ecstasy pills.

Leeds Festival (Danny Lawson/PA)
Leeds Festival (Danny Lawson/PA)

“The rise in drug-related deaths at music festivals and nightclubs is a growing problem for policymakers, health authorities and events companies alike,” said RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer.

“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.”

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.”