Photo by tanjila ahmed/Flickr

A Harm Reduction Expert Explains What Fabric's New Drug Policies Could Mean for the Safety of Clubgoers

UK drug charity Release talked to THUMP about the potential impact of fabric’s strict new rules.

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Jan 13 2017, 4:55pm

Photo by tanjila ahmed/Flickr

The global dance music community breathed a collective sigh of relief last weekend when the doors of London's storied club, fabric, reopened after its license was revoked at the end of last year following two drug-related deaths at the venue.

An international campaign to get the club's license back kicked off pretty much as soon as the ruling was handed down by local authorities. The decision was widely criticised as a punitive reaction to the complex sociocultural issue of drug abuse and three months later, the venue managed to reach an agreement with Islington Council on a set of conditions that would permit its management to reopen the club.

The conditions for the reopening, however, are strict. Clubgoers under 19 years old are no longer permitted in the club on weekend nights (the two young men who died last year were both 18). The club has hired a new security team, implementing enhanced searching procedures and covert surveillance within the club.

Harm reduction, the movement to stop punishing drug use and instead tackle it with common sense, advocates for the acceptance that drug use will happen and argues that the best way to keep people safe is through better education and drug policy reform. There is a concern among prominent harm reduction experts that some of fabric's new rules run counter to this principle. So THUMP reached out to Niamh Eastwood, the executive director of Release, one of the UK's leading drug charities, to talk about the new policies and their potential impact.

THUMP: What do you think of fabric's new policies? Namely no under 19s and covert surveillance within the club?
Niamh Eastwood: Covert surveillance is an unfortunate addition to fabric as it risks (predominantly young) people being criminalized for the non-violent act of drug possession and/or use. It also raises questions about whether this is the best use of resources for keeping people safe in a the nightlife environment when they may be taking drugs.

What potential impact could these policies have?
In addition to covert surveillance, the presence of police and security checking for drugs outside of nightclubs can put people at risk; for example, where those carrying drugs see that there is a risk of detection, they may consume everything that they have on them before entering the club in order to avoid arrest. This can be extremely dangerous and put people's health in significant danger.

Do you think nightclubs can be held accountable for drug-related deaths? What role should local authorities play in harm reduction within their nightlife community?
Clubs can try and take steps to reduce the risk of drug use, such as having outreach teams on site to provide information on safer use, and on-site drug testing for people to check what is in their substance. However, we have to recognise that the dearth of these initiatives at the moment is related to strict laws, not a lack of willingness from clubs to protect the health of their patrons. Therefore, it is vital that local authorities work with clubs to create the environment where these life-saving initiatives can be introduced.

For people who decide to take drugs on a night out, what can they do to minimise their risks, or where should they look for common sense harm reduction advice?
Ideally, people who are considering taking a drug on a night out should try and educate themselves about how to reduce the potential risks by accessing high quality harm reduction advice provided by organizations like Release. Some practical measures they can take are letting their friends know what they are doing so that they keep an eye on each other. Whilst such steps may minimise some of the risks, the fact the market is an illicit one means that purity or strength of a substance cannot be properly known without on-site drug testing facilities, ultimately to really reduce this risk a regulated market is probably the only way to guarantee that people know what is in their drugs.

Release provides a free confidential and non-judgemental national information and advice service in relation to drugs and drug laws. More information available on the website or via email (ask@release.org.uk).

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