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Health Experts Urge All UK Festivals to Offer Drug Testing

The Royal Society for Public Health aim to reduce drug-related deaths, which have steadily been on the rise.
Photo of Reading Festival by Sam Neill

UK charity Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) are calling on music festivals and clubs to allow patrons to test their drugs in order to reduce harm.

Today on their website, RSPH proposed the measure in response to an upwards trend in drug-related deaths across the UK. Deaths in England and Wales resulting from use of popular club drug ecstasy, specifically, have increased from ten in 2010 to 57 in 2015. They also pointed out the high-profile legal battle involving Fabric London, which last year was closed down (and since reopened) following two drug-related deaths in the span of nine weeks.


RSPH attributed the rise to an increase in the strength of ecstasy pills, as well the presence of "toxic substances" such as PMMA which can either lace or be mis-labeled entirely as ecstasy, a drug that approximately 12 percent of regular clubbers have been found to ingest in the past year.

Last year, two UK music festivals, Secret Garden Party and Kendal Calling, partnered with harm reduction group The Loop to host drug-testing services at their events; a study found that nearly one in five users deposed of their drugs after seeing what was in them. "If drug users can be reasonably sure of what they are actually taking," RSPH write, "then they will be better placed to make informed decisions about if and how to take these substances, and so are less likely to have an adverse reaction or overdose as a result."

Multiple music festivals including Reading and Leeds are expected to allow drug testing this summer.

Drug testing, however, is still very controversial. British psychiatrist, psychopharmacologist, and former government official David Nutt told THUMP last June that these testing kits only provide a partial picture when it comes to determining a drug's composition. "We've seen some progress when big clubs have mass spectrometers that fully work out the exact range of substances that might be in a pill," Nutt said. "But that's quite tricky, and it takes a lot more analysis to work out how much is in it, rather than what is in it…which is quite complicated and expensive. You can't do it on the side of the road."

"The rise in drug-related deaths at music festivals and night clubs is a growing problem for policy makers, health authorities and events companies alike," stated Shirley Cramer, RSPH chief executive. "While the use of stimulant 'club drugs' such as ecstasy can never be safe, and RSPH supports ongoing efforts to prevent them entering entertainment venues, we accept that a certain level of use remains inevitable in such settings. We therefore believe that a pragmatic, harm reduction response is necessary."

Read more about harm reduction in THUMP's Festival Harm Reduction Project series.