Harm-reduction at British Festivals

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How can we lower the risk associated with party culture?

This article discusses mature themes and is not suitable for readers under 16.

Festivals are places of relaxation, neon-lit fields where you can sway with little inhibitions. As with nightclubs, they are often places where people consume high amounts of alcohol and illegal drugs.

Drugs have severe physical and mental health implications, some of which can be permanent, or even cause death. Despite the presence of police officers and sniffer dogs at the entrance, people still seem to bring in drugs, some for personal consumption, some for profit. If there is no way to guarantee zero drugs on site, the best alternative is harm-reduction, practices aiming to lessen the negative impact of drugs and drug related behaviour.

Drug checking services

Research published by the journal Drugs, Habits and Social Policy in 2022, found that offering drug checking services at festivals does not increase the amount of substances consumed. Instead, it reduces the risk of drug-related harm, and creates a safer environment.

The Loop is a non-profit organisation that promotes and supports harm-reduction at British festivals. In 2013, they started at the Warehouse Project by offering forensic drug testing, and in 2014 they branched out to festivals, starting with Parklife. The research was carried out over the years 2016 to 2018. According to The University of Liverpool, in 2018 out of the participants that offered their drugs for testing, 61.7% disposed of them when the results were not as expected.

Testing drugs that make it past security does not only help the festival-goer stay safe, but it also helps the police find patterns and trends in drugs sold to the public.

Out of the seven festivals that offered on-site testing for festival-goers, there were zero drug-related deaths. Alongside this, some festivals will display drug interaction tables, as well as medical staff that can look after people that are not having a good time.

Related Information

Drugs still make a taboo subject: most people cannot talk to their parents or other authority figures, and consumption has long been a part of rave and party culture. Festivals have a certain responsibility towards their attendants, and drug safety services should be present on any festival site around the UK, because it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Visit the Sprout’s Alcohol, Drugs and Smoking page for more information.

Find out more about The Loop‘s initiative, or visit Talk to Frank for more advice.

Photograph 1 is part of the author’s personal collection. Photograph 2 by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash.

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