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Drug-testing service should be rolled out to festivals

Pilot testing service saw 1 in 5 dispose of their drugs

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 08 June 2017

Drug safety testing should be introduced at UK festivals and clubs, experts recommend today.

In a new policy paper: ‘Drug safety testing at festivals and night clubs,’ the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) outlines a series of recommendations to deal with the use of drugs in specific environments, and recommends the roll out of drug safety testing facilities as standard in the UK across all festivals, city centre nightlife areas in the UK and as a client service at drug treatment services.

Last year, drug safety testing pilots at two UK festivals saw almost one in five users (18%) dispose of their drugs once aware of the content.

There’s now a call for UK festivals to provide drug-testing services in an attempt to reduce deaths.

Deaths related to ecstasy use in England and Wales have risen from 10 in 2010 to 57 in 2015, with deaths related to any drug at festivals also increasing to six at UK festivals in 2016.

The RSPH calls for measures aimed at moving UK drugs strategy away from a predominantly criminal justice approach towards one based on public health and harm reduction. 

Key recommendations in its report include: 

  • Transferring lead responsibility for UK illegal drugs strategy to the Department of Health, and more closely aligning this with alcohol and tobacco strategies.
  • Preventing drug harm through universal Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education in UK schools, with evidence-based drugs education as a mandatory, key component.
  • Creating evidence-based drug harm profiles to supplant the existing classification system in informing drug strategy, enforcement priorities, and public health messaging.
  • Decriminalising personal use and possession of all illegal drugs, and diverting those whose use is problematic into appropriate support and treatment services instead, recognising that criminalising users most often only opens up the risk of further harm to health and wellbeing. Dealers, suppliers and importers of illegal substances would still be actively pursued and prosecuted, while evidence relating to any potential benefits or harm from legal, regulated supply should be kept under review.
  • Tapping into the potential of the wider public health workforce to support individuals to reduce and recover from drug harm.

However, commander Simon Bray of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, stated: "There has been no proposed national roll out of drug testing at festivals. Any proposal would need to be considered at a local level by the police force, local authority and health services with a view on its legal, scientific and possible health implications.

"Before any type of drug testing could be endorsed locally it is vital that forces have a strong understanding of the implications on policing. Police could not support initiatives that do not comply with the law or that have unintended negative consequences.”

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