Is it time we re-evaluated the way we tackle drug-use in the music scene?

The bank holiday weekend saw the likes of Love Saves the Day in Bristol, Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Swansea, and All Points East in London amongst many of the events kicking off 2018’s festival season. However, one festival made the headlines for far less joyful reasons: on Saturday the 26thMay, two people died at Mutiny Festivalin Portsmouth after taking “silver Audis”: a batch of extremely high-dosage ecstasy tablets that were found to be circulating the event. The news, albeit shocking, has become no surprise considering the sharp increase of accidental drugs poisonings since 2012. The number of deaths related to the notorious ‘party drug’ cocaine has more than doubled in recent years: going from 139 in 2012 to 371 in 2016. Whilst the men responsible for distributing the drugs at Mutiny have been found and arrested, the inevitability of these drug-related deaths happening every year is a clear indication that our government’s zero-tolerance strategy is not working. It begs the question: are we as a nation doing enough to tackle drug-related deaths in the club and festival scene?

Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the blanket warnings and zero-tolerance dialogue surrounding drug-use has led to a lack of education in ‘safe sesh’ amongst those who aren’t deterred by the risk and illegality of taking these drugs. Because, no matter how thorough the searching or how strict the regulations, drugs will continue to find their way into events, and people will continue to take them. So, whilst the Government and the events themselves will struggle to entirely eradicate drug-consumption, dealing with even the simplest issues such as over-capacity and under-staffed medical services at events is a place to start. However, many are now suggesting that the most direct and effective way to tackle the problem of accidental poisoning is by making drug-testing and drug-taking advice free and unprejudiced at festivals and clubs.

That’s where The Loop comes in. This crowd-funded NGO campaigns for and provides education in ‘safe sesh’: this is anything from their “Crush, Dab, Wait”campaign to their free drug-testing facilities. The group receives no Government funding, but still works in conjunction with health services, councils and police:

“By utilising our knowledge of potential risk in the night time economy – including relating to alcohol and drugs – we can advise customers, promoters and events staff about how best to keep customers safe.” https://wearetheloop.org/interventions/

The work the Loop realises highlights that the drugs themselves are often not the direct cause of the deaths: it’s more often to do with not knowing how to take them or their deal with symptoms, not drinking enough, or even drinking too much water, and not knowing where to go for help if things do go wrong

However, The Loop’s unprejudiced attitude and confidential services have been criticised by many as condoning and even enabling illegal drug-use. They have even been viewed as culpable for making the taboo issue of drugs a more openly discussed topic, and therefore undermining the severity and risk that the drugs they are testing pose. Whilst, in the past, they have worked in conjunction with festivals such as Kendal Calling and Secret Garden Party and have even supported Fabric in the build-up to their re-opening last year, they have, nonetheless, not been so warmly welcomed by everyone. Some of the biggest festival directors, such as Festival Republic – which organises Reading and Leeds Festivals, among others, have decided not to allow drug testing at their festivals this year, for fear that it “has the ability to mislead”. However, since the deaths at Mutiny, the festival’s organiser, Luke Betts, has suggested that they will allow for drug-testing in future years in an attempt to tackle the issue.

Whether or not you believe that the Loop’s approach is appropriate, it can be agreed that our current policies and attitude are not working. The out-dated, zero-tolerance attitude ours and so many other Governments have is evidently ineffectual. Whilst, clearly, the best way to reduce drug related harm is avoidance, a more open dialogue is needed. These deaths can no longer be swept under the carpet and seen as anomalies: steps can be taken to reduce them, and the Loop is proof of that.

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