11 August 2018
Many readers will be aware of the work of non-profit organisation The Loop, who have been offering their drug testing and counselling service at a small but growing number of music festivals since summer 2016. This August our founder Fiona was invited to join them at Bestival. It was a great opportunity to see their work at first hand, and speak to chemists and counsellors about what they’d been finding.
The main drugs being handed in were MDMA, ketamine and cocaine. Fiona arrived just as a warning was going out about pentylone, which had been found in what had been sold as MDMA, and was causing acute paranoia, psychotic episodes and days of insomnia. Counsellors told her the conversations they had were often the first honest ones that people have had with anyone about their drug use. They judged that most had not had any useful drug education at school.
Always controversial because of concerns it condones drug use, or sends the message this makes drug taking safe, this is nevertheless the last line of defence for anyone with drugs and an intention to take them, for whatever reason. If Dan could have had his bag of MDMA tested and found it was twelve times stronger than had caused fatality in the past, perhaps he’d still be here. The counsellors I spoke to said most young people coming to them had had no, or little, useful drug education, and they reinforced what all the reports of The Loop’s work had said, that around one in five people decide not to take their drugs at all when they know what’s in them and have spoken to their team, and about half decide to take less, or take their drugs more slowly. Drug-related harms are significantly lower at the festivals they’ve been at, and that has to be a good thing.
The first line of defence, however – good, comprehensive, age-appropriate, evidence-based drug education - remains absolutely essential. With this behind them before they even set off, festival goers arrive better armed to make choices that keep them safe from harm.
You can see an interview Fiona was asked to do on Channel 5 news about drug testing at festivals here