Drugs

How Drugs Make It into Summer Festivals

We went to Bestival on the Isle of Wight to talk to festival-goers about how they managed to sneak their stash in.

by Michael Segalov
14 September 2016, 12:00am

This post originally appeared on VICE UK.

Some things are pretty much guaranteed to happen during the summer: It'll be the hottest July on record (again), and crowds of young people will flock to safe, rural locations up and down the country to sleep on roll-mats and shit in holes for three or four days.

From police officers' kids to the politicians of tomorrow, millions of us go to festivals every year, and some 22 percent of us take drugs while we're there. Despite the dogs, the warnings, and the security searching you on entry and sweeping the campsites, people manage to get their pills and powders in. From Glastonbury to Creamfields, Boardmasters to T in the Park, they're a fixture of essentially every British festival, bar maybe Camp Bestival and Jamie Oliver's Big Feastival.

So last year, when I went to Bestival to test the purity of the drugs that had been smuggled in, it wasn't a huge surprise that people had armed themselves with a large range of illicit substances. What did surprise me, however, was just how dodgy a load of them were.

This year, I headed back to the Isle of Wight, not to see how pure the drugs were, but to find out how people had managed to get them inside in the first place. A Bestival spokesperson told me they work closely with Hampshire Police to keep the festival safe, and they're not wrong: The evidence is there to show they confiscated a huge amount of narcotics over the course of this past weekend. About $230,000 worth of drugs and psychoactive substances were seized by police officers and security staff, with about $83,000 worth of that figure collected in amnesty bins before festival-goers entered the site—almost double the amount submitted to amnesty in 2015.

Still, as with literally every single other festival throughout the UK, people will find a way to get their stash in undetected—even if it's via the most rudimentary method going. "Normally, I just shove the drugs in my balls, to be honest, and I won't shower for a few days to help cover up the smell," explained one guy I met on the ferry on the way over, who'd just done a big bump of K in the bathroom.

By the time I arrived, I'd already clocked another way of sneaking contraband onto the site: Nab yourself an artist wristband. "The thing is, we get driven straight to our stages, and we've got huge amounts of kit in the van," a band member from Saturday's lineup explains. "We get whizzed past security, and nobody ever stops you—else half the bands or more at any festival probably wouldn't make it."

A security guard searching someone's wallet

Walking past the amnesty bins and sniffer dogs at Bestival's main entrance, beady-eyed cops and hired security were on the prowl for anything suspicious. I stopped for a while to watch. Occasionally, a look of panic would hit the face of a fresh-faced teenager, or a 20-something posh kid for whom the idea of a police caution was just too much to handle. Here, a beeline would be made to the nearest port-a-potty / amnesty bin / bush to dump whatever they'd been hoping to hide.

"I just couldn't risk it," said a teenager I spotted dropping a gram of coke into a bin. "It's my first festival, and I'm sure I'll be able to buy something inside."

Meanwhile, hardier-looking arrivals—the ones who clearly had some experience of K-holing in $40 Argos tents—strolled straight on through. Plenty of people were searched, but the line kept on moving.

Thursday might be the warm-up night at the last great festival of the summer, but the ground inside on Friday morning was already covered in empty baggies. It was time to get to work. Over a couple of hours, I snaked through the various campsites, asking one simple question: How did you get your drugs on site?

The most common answer I was given was a simple: "I shoved them in my socks." It was hardly Ocean's Eleven, but I guess there's no need to fix what's not broken.

"I've got a special pair of knickers that I can slot a massive wrap into," a 19-year-old from Sussex proudly told me, grabbing the black lacy pants from her tent. "They always suspect boys might have something shoved up their pants, but girls? Less so."

Later, a guy who introduced himself as "party-boy Patrick" had a sneaky zipped-up slot in his sweatband, which he assured me had, at one point earlier, been brimming with pills. A guy slouching opposite him yelled, "Weed in a sleeping bag!"

From shirt pockets to cigarette boxes, bra straps to snapbacks, everyone I asked seemed to have a failsafe drug-smuggling routine. More inventive techniques included NOS canisters tied up into belt form with masking tape to keep the noise from giving the game away, and GHB poured into a hair-lotion bottle and placed in a toiletry bag.

The most ingenious, however, came from a 21-year-old woman from Kent. "What I do is take a tampon in a plastic case, cut it in half, and empty out the inside," she explained to me. "Then all you need to do is fill in the bottom half with cotton wool and place your drugs in the middle, before topping it up with more cotton wool and resealing with an iron."

In a real "here's one I made earlier moment," she dove into a tent behind us to show what she meant.

By the time I stopped marvelling at her creativity, the sun had started to set. No longer were drugs hidden or stashed in secret; darkness was cover enough. One guy decided he didn't even need to lock the port-a-potty he was in, leaning out to offer me a bump of MDMA off a debit card (which I declined, of course).

What seemed most concerning to me wasn't the fact that people were taking drugs at Bestival. Go to any festival—or nightclub, or park, or house party, or suburban bus stop—during the long summer season, and you'll be confronted with an extremely similar sight. People will continue to take drugs at every festival going; it's a reality that's out of the hands of promoters and the police.

However, how safe we are when we take these substances is an issue that authorities can very much have an impact on. While experienced drug takers knew how to slip in their own supply, it was the most vulnerable—first-time users and younger people—who, for the most part, told me they were unwilling or unable to take the risk of bringing their own supplies in, and so were more likely to buy a mystery pill off some guy called Chaz stumbling through their campsite in flip-flops and shouting "pills, pills, pills." With the number of deaths at British festivals sitting at an alarmingly high rate, we all have a responsibility to make sure there's a change of direction.

The Loop's drug testing tent at Secret Garden Party was a great start, but wholesale reforms—like those detailed by Max Daly on VICE—are needed across the board if we want to properly reduce harm. Because if we don't—well, people will keep on dying.

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Note: VICE does not condone drug use. Smuggling drugs into a festival is a very stupid idea. Don't do it.