The summer season is about to bring its annual collection of music festivals across the British Isles. For many it’s a chance to relax and unwind for a few days while listening and watching some of the biggest music performers in the world. Thousands will attend events across the country and be able to enjoy themselves sensibly. Some who attend will choose to consume alcohol; and more worryingly, illegal drugs.
Drug consumption at music festivals has been an issue for organisers and police for years. Many events have witnessed countless stories of festival-goers being rushed to on-site emergency facilities to be treated for effects of taking drugs.
The US-based Coalition Against Drug Abuse tracked which drugs have become most popular at festivals by looking at social media posts from festival goers. Although the statistics are from 2014, they show that the most mentioned drugs at the major UK festival Glastonbury ranged from alcohol, to banned substances such as cocaine, LSD, MDMA and cannabis. From the statistics gathered it was concluded that around 10% of drink and drug-related Glastonbury social media posts mentioned cocaine or crack cocaine.
However, over the past couple of years there has been a concerted drive to try and regulate the level of drug consumption at major music festivals. Organisers understand that it would be virtually impossible to stop every person who attends from taking illegal substances, so they have looked at various methods of mitigating the effects that drugs have on those who attend.
One method which is currently being trialled and continues to generate a lot of debate is on-site drug testing. However, where this method differs from conventional on-site drug testing of people to determine whether they may have consumed illegal drugs, organisers want to test the actual substances to alert owners of the quantity, purity and strength of the drugs they may potentially consume.
In a recent interview, Melvin Benn, head of Live Nation subsidiary Festival Republic, revealed that the scheme expects to be implemented at ‘6 to 10 festivals this year.’ Those who attend the festival will have the opportunity to take their drugs to a testing tent run by The Loop, who are an organization that usually conducts forensic testing seized by police. They will be able to tell them what the contents of the drugs are, and offer to destroy the substances should the owner choose to hand them over.
The Loop ran the scheme for the first time in 2016, when they provided testing capabilities for 200 people at the Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire. Fiona Measham, founder of the organization, said that the initiative’s development was “radical”, before adding, “It’s really exciting that police are prioritising health and safety over criminal justice at festivals.”
While organisations such as The Loop have applauded the police forces for taking this approach, others have been much more skeptical and have questioned the approach. Police officials have stated that while they cannot condone the consumption of illegal drugs, they do recognize that many young people will take them anyway, and it at least provides them with an insight to what they are taking.
Assistant Chief Constable of the West Yorkshire force, Andy Battle, who is in charge of policing the annual Leeds Festival, said that while officers would continue to target dealers, it was also important they took a pragmatic approach when it came to festival goers taking drugs. However anti-drug campaigners have questioned the approach, stating that the police forces should not be condoning the taking of illegal drugs. David Ryan of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, said: “This will simply normalise drug taking amongst the young and will reinforce the attitude that taking drugs is an integral part of the festival experience, which it is not.” He goes further to say that drug testing services offer an illusion of safety, as they tell drug users about purity, but purity is not a measure of safety. On-site drug testing will inevitably provoke debate, with arguments supporting the method relating to increased health and safety, but countering that argument is those who say that dugs are illegal for a reason and the law should not be ignored.
When the current Prime Minister Theresa May was Home Secretary in 2013, she dismissed a proposal to pre-test drugs at a night club in Manchester, arguing the case that “if somebody has purchased something that the state has deemed illegal, it’s not then for the state to go and test it for you.”
The shift in policy shows on-site drug testing at major events such as music festivals will always divide opinion. Those who support testing believe that if it prevents even one death then it will have been a worthwhile procedure, but others will argue that the law is there for a reason, and if someone has purchased illegal substances then they should not have the opportunity to test the strength of their purchase. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the coming months and we will keep a keen eye on any news that develops.
About Randox Testing Services
At Randox Testing Services we are at the forefront of alcohol and drug testing. We aim to spread the message of alcohol and drug misuse and the effects substance abuse can have on individuals and businesses.
We work across a range of sectors within business and family law. Across these sectors there are huge ramifications of alcohol and drug abuse for all involved and the detection of positive results is critical.
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