Secret Garden Party festival offered festivalgoers the opportunity to have their drugs tested to help avoid overdoses and poisonings.

Secret Garden Party festival offered festivalgoers the opportunity to have their drugs tested to help avoid overdoses and poisonings.

Buying drugs at a festival is a game of Russian Roulette. Demand always outstrips supply and those crafty enough to sneak their wares through tight security can name their price – and often put whatever name they like to their mysterious bags of pills and powders.

This year, Secret Garden Party became the first UK festival to adopt a pragmatic ‘harm reduction’ approach to drugs, offering some festivalgoers the chance to have their drugs tested as part of its welfare service. Drug testing is standard practice at many European festivals, meaning users are informed about what it is they are ingesting.

In the first day and a half alone, over 80 substances were tested, and it was discovered that very high strength ecstasy pills were in circulation and that a number of substances had been miss-sold: including anti-malaria tablets sold as ketamine and ammonium sulphate sold as MDMA.

Drugs, alcohol and sexual health advice service The Loop tested the substances using a range of laboratory techniques including FT-IR spectroscopy, and results were given to clients as part of a free, confidential information package by trained and experienced drugs workers.

“The Loop has been conducting forensic testing at events for a number of years, but before now, we’ve only tested drugs seized by police, dropped in amnesty bins or provided by paramedics as a result of a medical incident,” explains Professor Fiona Measham, co-founder and director of The Loop.

“[Offering testing services to individual users] can help people make informed choices, raising awareness of particularly dangerous substances in circulation and reducing the chance of drug-related problems occurring. It’s an important innovation that we know can reduce risks and potentially save lives. Other countries in Europe have had testing services like this at events for years – the UK is just catching up, and we are pleased to be part of that evolutionary process.”

Overdoses are a regular occurrence at UK festivals, and already this year two teenagers have died at Scotland’s biggest music festival, T in the Park, following suspected overdoses. Until festivalgoers understand what they’re taking, the strength of their purchases and what’s really inside their baggies, these incidents are likely to continue.

The drug testing programme at SGP was also supported by Transform Drug Policy Foundation. “We all want to keep festival goers safe, so Transform congratulates the Secret Garden Party, police and council officers for supporting a pragmatic, health-based approach to drug use,” explains Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst for Transform. “All drug use involves risks, but these are magnified by criminalisation, which gifts the market to criminals and unregulated dealers. Until the laws are reformed, testing and encouraging safer drug use is the least we can do.”

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