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Drug harm reduction scheme partners with festivals

The HSE's Safer Nightlife programme was piloted at Electric Picnic last summer and is set to be rolled out across other Irish events

By James Hanley on 23 May 2023

Electric Picnic has been called off

Electric Picnic

A drug harm-reduction campaign piloted by HSE (Health and Safety Executive) at last summer’s Electric Picnic is being rolled out across a number of other Irish festivals.

The Safer Nightlife programme, which will begin at the upcoming Life Festival in Mullingar, with other participating events still to be announced, will include “back of house” drug checking through the use of surrender bins, media awareness and a social media campaign.

Teams of HSE trained volunteers will available to talk about the scheme, drug trends and harm-reduction practices with attendees, while also supporting people in cases of drug emergencies.

“I am delighted to launch the second phase of our Safer Nightlife campaign that includes an expanded ‘back of house’ drug checking service with an aim to identify drug market trends of concern,” says Prof Eamon Keenan, HSE’s national clinical lead, addiction services. “This approach will improve our drug monitoring capabilities and help to tailor our harm reduction services in Ireland.

“Through a ‘back of house’ approach we can access drugs in a safe, non-judgemental manner to quickly gain insight on what drugs may be in circulation and issue real time drug alerts about substances of concern to festival attendees via our social media channels.”

The multi-component campaign aims to help educate people who use drugs at events so they can make informed decisions

The multi-component campaign aims to help educate people who use drugs at events so they can make informed decisions. Keenan notes that the first phase, conducted at Electric Picnic last summer, shows the approach has the potential to identify trends otherwise unknown.

“The HSE found trends of concern including high potency drugs, 12 new psychoactive substances and four drugs which had never been identified before in Ireland,” he says.

The HSE’s message is that it is always safer not to use drugs at all, but that it needs to acknowledge that festivals can be risk-taking settings where people may try drugs for the first time, or try new types of drugs.

“The programme was incredibly successful in 2022, and allowed us to highlight particularly dangerous substances encountered in festival settings while also creating greater awareness for people who use drugs as part of the night time economy,” adds Hildegarde Naughton, minister for public health, wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy.

“The programme for government contains the commitment to increase drug monitoring at festivals, and harm reduction interventions, such as the Safer Nightlife Programme, can save people’s lives. I will continue to work alongside colleagues in the HSE to see this invaluable initiative rolled out even further in the months and years ahead.”


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