Drug testing at Irish music festivals – time to face the reality of recreational drug use

We don’t mean to alarm you, but apparently numerous young people who attend music festivals in Ireland consume illegal drugs. We’re as stunned as you are.

Drugs cause deaths - Imagens Evangellcas
Contaminants in the drugs sold at festivals  cause numerous deaths. photo credit: Imagens Evangellcas.

All joking aside, this is a very serious issue and can lead to deadly outcomes. Recreational drug use at music festivals is a regular occurrence. New Irish legislation is being proposed to allow for drug users to have their drugs tested at festivals and in nightclubs for harmful contaminants. We took to the streets of Dublin to find out what people thought.

 

Although Ireland is still lagging behind the rest of the world and refusing to accept the reality of recreational drug usage, drug testing systems have already been implemented in various countries. One of those countries is our neighbor, the UK.

At music festivals in the UK, drug users can have their drugs tested for deadly additives. The facilitator of this service is The Loop, an organisation which offers on site drug testing at some of the world’s largest music festivals including Glastonbury, Creamfields and Ultra Europe. The Circular caught up with Fiona Measham, who is the CEO of the organisation and also Professor of Criminology at Durham University to find out more.

Fiona Measham, CEO of The Loop

What exactly does The Loop do?

Primarily we provide testing for substances of concern at music festivals and in nightclubs. The testing is done for agencies on site, police, paramedics and also for the drug users themselves to identify substances of concern and also highlight any contaminants that might be miss-sold by dealers on site.

Is The Loop exclusive to the UK?

Predominantly the loop does operate in the UK, but we also provide a welfare service at festivals in Croatia and also in Malta and we’re hoping to expand to do testing in Irish festivals next year. We’re looking at the likes of Electric Picnic and so on but it’s proving difficult to form an alliance with the Irish authorities.

Has The Loop faced any backlash – you know some people may say that this is promoting drug use?

Not at all actually, I mean the surprising thing has been that we’ve had enormously positive press from right across the political spectrum.

If an individual comes to your tent to get their drugs tested, will they not be arrested by the police for drug possession?

Well generally because there tends to be a significant amount of drug use at festivals anyway, the police will do their best to make sure that no drugs come on site but once the drugs are on site then they realise that it’s highly likely that people are going to consume the drugs anyway so this is a pragmatic response really to the situation, in that regard then if people come to our tent and they are coming to get their drugs tested then the police won’t arrest them when they come into the tent. The police accept that for the greater good of the public’s safety, it’s more beneficial for the drugs to be tested than for the individual to be arrested.

 

What’s the strangest contaminant you’ve found in drugs you’ve tested at a festival?

Probably the most bizarre of all is that we tested some ecstasy tablets recently, which turned out to be 100% pure concrete

It’s seems obvious that this system should be implemented in Ireland. The Circular spoke to Andy Osborn from Drugs.ie to find out if he agrees.

Does recreational drug use occur at festivals in Ireland?

Yes  and there certainly has been an increase in drug consumption across Europe in recent years and we do know that from data from the European monitory centre for drugs and drugs addiction. The reality is drugs are there, they exist and they are widely available, it’s not difficult to actually purchase drugs and you know this is the reality that we are trying to deal with. I don’t think that we can ever say that we’ll have a drug free society; I don’t think that’s a reality, so what we can try and do is best manage the situation.

Do you think it’s worrying that so many young people choose to experiment with drugs?

I suppose just dealing with the reality of the situation, you know one thing we do know is that young people do take drugs and you know that’s quite obvious, I’m sure you would be aware of that yourself. The vast majority of people, kids who do experiment with drugs don’t go on to develop problems with drugs and I think it’s important to note that. Now obviously there are risks associated with taking any drug, so you know people do need to be careful.

Should drug testing be introduced at Irish music festivals?

Well I don’t think we can ever necessarily combat drug use entirely, but what we can do and what I think is very important to do is to try and provide some level of harm reduction measures to people who are going to take drugs. If testing drugs for harmful contaminates is going to prevent young people from dying, then absolutely.

So there you have it, recreational drug use is real, it happens and we need to implement harm reduction measures that prevent young people from dying in the process of experimenting with drugs.