‘Life Saving’ Festival Drug Testing to Restart

Pic: Hal Gatewood @ Unsplash

A Home Office decision to continue providing licenses to allow festivals to undertake back-of-house drug testing has been described as ‘life-saving’ by Manchester’s night time economy advisor.

The decision which will help identify toxic substances in circulation and help prevent drug-related overdoses was announced by the Home Office this week and follows last year’s disagreements over whether on-site testing in “pop-up labs” should go ahead.

Back-of-house drug testing uses samples of confiscated or surrendered drugs, allowing on-site laboratories to send out public alerts to festival-goers in real time if extremely potent drugs are detected. The service aims to protect the public and help prevent drug-related harm.

Supporters say these warnings save lives and give medical teams a better idea of how to treat anyone who becomes seriously ill after taking drugs, as well as tracking the prevalence of emerging threats, such as synthetic opioids, so that police and health support services can take swift action to contain the problem should any be identified.

The decision means services such as The Loop will be delivering drug testing during the festival period this year, following the successful application and receipt of Home Office licences to proceed.

Substances of concern will be tested onsite at festivals in The Loop’s mobile laboratory providing rapid information to help keep festival attendees safe this summer. The Loop’s evidence-based testing and harm reduction services aim to reduce harm from drug-taking, increase understanding of local drug markets, and share information with stakeholders, including police and health services, to support harm reduction messages both within the festival and to wider communities.

The substances of concern are received by The Loop following surrender to amnesty bins, confiscation or, of highest priority, submissions from paramedics associated with drug-related medical incidents at the event, and rapid testing enables understanding of the drugs which are in circulation, and identifying those that may be of higher risk due to adulteration or strength.

Katy Porter, CEO of The Loop said:

“It is important that we are able to proceed this year with drug testing. The drug market is changing, and we are able to plan and prepare in our harm reduction messaging and response when we are informed regarding the drugs which are in circulation, and equipped with accurate and current information.”

Licensed by the Home Office and in line with government policy, The Loop’s aim of reducing the consumption of adulterants and contaminated drugs and reducing the risk of poisoning and overdose, has been welcomed by the two festivals The Loop will be working with.

Jon Drape, spokesperson on behalf of Parklife, said:

“On site drug testing is a cornerstone of our harm reduction strategy and we are delighted to have The Loop on-site with us this year.”

The Loop provides non-judgemental, clear, factual information to communicate relative risk and help reduce potential harm, signposting and supporting people to immediate and if required emergency health services, where appropriate. The Loop is clear that there is no such thing as safe drug use, all drug use carries risk, and it benefits all drug using communities and emergency services to better understand the nature and extent of dangerous drugs in circulation, to reduce the harm caused to individuals, communities and wider society.

“This is a fantastic endorsement of The Loop’s work. For over a decade we have been testing onsite at UK festivals, in real time, to raise awareness about what is in circulation. This has been possible only because of partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders who have shared our vision of making festivals safer places. Thank you to all the police, promoters, paramedics, public health and welfare services who have supported The Loop’s work and prioritised harm reduction.”

Sacha Lord, the Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester, said,

“Drug testing at festivals is undeniably critical, and I am extremely pleased that the Home Office has approved their ongoing use. There is no safe way to take drugs, and so testing quite literally saves lives, and can help uncover new and potentially lethal drugs which may be new to the market.

“I would like to thank the cross-party MPs who have supported this move, and those behind the scenes at the Home Office who have worked so hard to ensure we have these licenses in place ahead of this year’s festival season.”