Fellowes, Drape, Measham on the case for drug testing
The Loop director Fiona Measham, Broadwick Live’s Jon Drape and Secret Garden Party promoter Freddie Fellowes joined AFEM CEO Mark Lawrence at IMS Ibiza last month to discuss drug testing at festivals and clubs.
‘The Case for Drug Testing at Events, presented by The Loop’, on day two of IMS, saw the two festival bosses – both of whom have led the way in implementing the Loop’s multi-agency safety testing (MAST) at their events – talk with Measham and Lawrence about their experience of front-of-house pill testing, and its effectiveness in reducing the harm associated with drug use, with Fellowes describing the growth of MAST as “the first meaningful change in harm-reduction policy that I’ve seen in our industry” in 20 years.
Calling for change, Measham, also professor of criminology at Durham University, said in order to avoid future drug fatalities at festivals, “we need to is actually encourage a more healthy relationship with drugs”.
Watch the panel in full, exclusively on IQ, above.
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As GTM mulls legality, researcher says pill testing could save lives
On-site festival pill testing, of the kind common in Austria, the Netherlands and, most recently, Britain, could reduce the harm caused by drug use and potentially save festivalgoers’ lives, according to major new review of drug policy out of Australia.
The publication of ‘“Worth the test?” Pragmatism, pill testing and drug policy in Australia’, published in the Harm Reduction Journal today and shared under embargo with IQ, comes as Cattleyard Promotions – the promoter behind Groovin the Moo, one of Australia’s biggest music festivals – weighs up whether to introduce pill testing at the 2018 events, in what would be the first full-scale trial down under.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a potential trial at the Canberra festival, which takes place on 29 April, has the backing of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government and police force, but promoters remain concerned over legal issues – despite pill-testing consortium Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events (STA-SAFE) offering legal indemnity to Cattleyard if it allows drug testing.
A spokeswoman for Cattleyard says the promoter needs clarification on who is legally liable for the trial. “As pill testing has never been trialled before in Australia, the decision to implement it is not solely ours, as there are multiple stakeholders involved in undertaking the exercise,” she says.
“Some of the complexities that we are working through involve clarification around patron protection and legal ramifications for those who participate. We are also working through guidelines relating to insurances and liability.”
Two teenagers, including a 15-year-old girl, overdosed on drugs at Groovin the Moo 2016.
“The debate must be about harm, rather than criminality”
In ‘Worth the test?’, Andrew Groves of Deakin University in Victoria examines evidence in support of pill testing to reduce fatalities caused by party drugs, such as ecstasy and methamphetamine, at festivals, clubs and raves. He compares Australia’s “inadequate” current approach, which centres on prevention, with attitudes in other countries, such as Portugal, Austria and the Netherlands, where the focus is on harm reduction.
Dr Groves reveals that Austrian initiative chEckiT has seen two-thirds of users binning their drugs when they discovered their content, while “a similar project in the Netherlands found that pill testing did not increase the use of party drugs, which is often perceived as a risk of such initiatives”.
“Although considered radical at the time, these measures have been effective in reducing the harms associated with illicit drug use, and problems for drug users and the wider community,” says Dr Groves. “The examples evaluated in this study support the idea that party-drug use requires pragmatic, evidence-based initiatives, such as pill testing, rather than criminal justice responses.”
In the UK, meanwhile, pill-testing charity The Loop is already working with a number of festivals, including Kendal Calling and Boomtown Fair, and recently called for the introduction of similar ‘drug-testing hubs’ in city centres as a means of stemming a rise in drug-related deaths.
“The most surprising finding of our research is that the evidence has clearly identified the inadequacy of existing punitive, zero-tolerance strategies across several countries,” continues Dr Groves, “and yet such policies often remain embedded in government legislative action. While we still need further evaluation of how best to implement pill testing and other harm reduction initiatives, the evidence suggests that they are useful and there is widespread support from the community and practitioners in the field.
“The debate must be about harm, rather than criminality.”
“Party-drug use requires pragmatic, evidence-based initiatives, such as pill testing”
Jon Drape of festival production outfit Ground Control told IQ in 2016 that around 25% of those who tested their drugs with the Loop at Kendal Calling and Secret Garden Party opted to bin them after discovering their content. There were 80 “substances of concern” discovered at SGP 2016, including extremely high-strength ecstasy, ‘ketamine’ that was actually an antimalarial and ammonium sulphate – used as a soil fertiliser and insecticide – sold as MDMA, he explained.
Previous attempts to get pill testing off the ground in Australia have been unsuccessful. While harm-reduction activist Will Tregoning said in August 2016 there would be pill testing at a festival in Australia in 2017, the festival in question – Spilt Milk – pulled out with six weeks to go, citing “insufficient” documentation from STA-SAFE.
ACT health minister Meegan Fitzharris said the Canberra government is doing “everything [it] can to ensure pill testing goes ahead at Groovin the Moo”. “The ACT government is being proactive and working with stakeholders to address any questions or concerns so we can see this happen,” she adds, “and I hope we have a final outcome soon.”
Dr Groves stresses that although pill testing cannot eliminate the harms of drug use, and cannot be used as a stand-alone solution, it could be a vital part of wider harm reduction strategy. “We are calling for further collaboration between law enforcement and healthcare providers to ensure that they take appropriate action to reduce the harm caused by drugs,” he concludes. “It is important to focus on prevention, public awareness campaigns and education to shift cultural attitudes, so that use of party drugs is identified as a public health issue rather than a criminal one.”
Royal Blood, Public Service Broadcasting, Alex Lahey, Duke Dumont, Lady Leshurr, Portugal the Man, Sampa the Great and Claptone are among the performers at Groovin the Moo 2018, which kicks off in Wayville, South Australia, on 27 April and wraps up in Bunbury on 12 May.
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Time to Test: The Loop to bring drug testing to city centres
The Loop, the charity behind the pill-testing services at several UK music festivals, has called for the introduction of ‘regional drug-testing hubs’ in British cities to stem the alarming rise in the number of drug-related deaths.
Night Lives: Reducing Drug-Related Harms in the Night-Time Economy, a new report by the Loop, Volteface, Durham University and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, highlights the urgent need to reduce the harms associated with club drug use – revealing that though drug usage rates have remained broadly consistent, hospital admissions have spiked sharply, with drug-related deaths due to ecstasy and cocaine at their highest since records began.
It also recommends the adoption of a series of “bold yet practical initiatives” to combat the issue, including:
- Drug safety testing services in night-time districts
- An independent information service to reduce drug-related harm
- Drugs awareness training for night-time staff
- The adoption of the UK festival drug policy of the ‘3 Ps’ – prevent, pursue, protect – in licensed venues
Report co-author Dr Henry Fisher, health and science policy director at Volteface, comments: “While the UK’s drug market has rapidly evolved in recent years, measures taken to address harms have failed to keep pace and, as a result, our young people, public services and much-loved venues are bearing the brunt of this failure. Everyone we spoke to for the report agrees more needs to be done to reduce drug harms.
“This report provides innovative solutions to tackle them, such as drug safety testing services. It is now up to councils, clubs and police to work together to implement them.”
“Keeping people safe requires more than zero-tolerance rhetoric”
The Loop’s first festival partner was Secret Garden Party, in 2016, with Kendal Calling following shortly after. It also offered front-of-house testing at Boomtown Fair in 2017, and the organisation says it will work with “an increased number of UK festivals this summer”.
To help fund the launch of the scheme, along with the “growing demand” for its services at festivals, the Loop has launched a crowdfunding campaign, Time to Test, which aims to raise £50,000 by 15 June.
“Night-time venues are at the centre of British music culture, making our cities exciting and vibrant places to live while contributing over £66 billion to the UK economy,” says Jeff Smith MP, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform. “Keeping people safe requires more than zero-tolerance rhetoric around drugs and out-dated licensing laws. This report offers credible and tested solutions to help protect people attending events.
“I hope that venues, local authorities and the government will work together to make these recommendations a reality.”
To donate to the Time to Test campaign, visit crowd.science/campaigns/time-to-test.
Support for festival drug testing grows in UK
Respected UK charity the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has called for drug-testing facilities, such as those trialled at Kendal Calling and Secret Garden Party last summer, to be made standard at all music festivals “where drug use is common”.
In a new report, Drug safety testing at festivals and night clubs, released this morning, RSPH says the move, “which is backed by 95% of festival-goers, [would] help minimise the risk of serious health harm as a result of recreational drug use”.
Secret Garden Party became last July became the first British festival to give attendees the chance to test the content of their drugs without fear of recrimination, with Kendal Calling following a week later. Jon Drape, whose Ground Control Productions company works with Kendal Calling, told IQ at the time drug testing is a “no-brainer”, adding around a quarter of those who tested their drugs opted to bin them after discovering their content.
RSPH’s own data suggests a similar figure of almost one in five (18%).
Drug testing at both festivals was undertaken in partnership with nonprofit The Loop, which will also introduce the testing – officially ‘multi-agency safety testing’ (MAST) – at several Festival Republic events this summer, including Reading and Leeds.
“If drug users can be reasonably sure of what they are actually taking, they will be better placed to make informed decisions about if and how to take these substances”
MAST, or a local variant thereof, is already commonplace in continental Europe, including the Netherlands, Austria and Spain. Efforts to introduce drug testing in Australia have been frustrated by local government and police, with festival promoters in New South Wales told they could face prosecution for drug supply.
According to RSPH, the need for pill testing at festivals has become more acute with the rise in strength of the average ecstasy pill. As reported by IQ last May, MDMA use is on the rise across Europe, with a simultaneous increase in the availability of high-MDMA pills and powdered and crystal forms of the drug.
“Given that a large degree of health harm associated with ‘club drugs’ stems from user ignorance of the exact strength and content of pills and powders of uncertain provenance, any measures that increase our knowledge base can be expected to have a positive effect on reducing harm – especially if the provision of such information creates an opportunity to impart information on safer behaviours and risk reduction to the key target population,” reads the RSPH report.
“If drug users can be reasonably sure of what they are actually taking, then they will be better placed to make informed decisions about if and how to take these substances, and so are less likely to have an adverse reaction or overdose as a result.”
MAST, therefore, says RSPH, is a “pragmatic harm reduction measure” which should “become a standard feature of places where drug use is prevalent, such as city-centre nightlife areas and festivals.”