Drug Use At Festivals – The Elephant In The Room

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The taboo associated with drugs prevents sensible harm reduction policies that would reduce avoidable negative consequences and deaths. For the majority of us, there is a fundamental fascination and pleasure in changing the way one perceives the world temporarily. This is why many use drugs, be it alcohol, cannabis or countless others.

Festivals, a celebration of music, art and human expression are naturally places people would choose to take these reality altering drugs. Many people will for instance choose to take a substance that puts them in an ecstatic mood, like MDMA, watching their favourite band or DJ with all of their friends. Drugs are omnipresent at festivals and in acknowledging the reality of the human obsession with altering consciousness, this seems unlikely to change.

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Photo credit: Rojer

It’s absurd to let people die because it feels awkward to acknowledge that drug use happens. Politicians, policy makers, festival organisers and the public at large know that drugs will be used at events, but little if anything is done about it. Accepting the facts of the matter, we need to change our focus on the issue of drugs in festivals to one of harm-reduction, making it socially and legally acceptable to change the festival infrastructure to reduce death and injury.

There are a few ways to do this. One is to allow drug testing at festivals, so people can check that what they think they are taking, they are indeed taking. The lack of this facility in festivals and nightclubs around the country leads to multiple avoidable deaths a year, with Manchester super-club The Warehouse Project trying a pilot scheme in 2014 after a clubber died taking pills that contained PMA instead of MDMA in September 2013. In the scheme, drugs seized by security were tested and clubbers could voluntarily hand in a sample to provide real-time information to the party. The test reveals whether the substance is legitimate or not, and what adulterants may be present. If adulterants are found, people are warned about the sample in question on social media as well as LED signs in the club.

The basic awareness of what drugs one is taking would negate harmful side effects and help reduce accidental overdoses and fatalities. Another method would be to provide a safe, relaxing space staffed by medical professionals and volunteers for people having a bad experience on drugs to come back down to earth. People having a difficult time can be looked after until the incident blows over. This approach has been pioneered by Portugal’s BOOM festival, a country where drug possession has been partially decriminalised. The “Kosmicare” tent, centrally located, is a hub for people looking for advice about drugs and a helping hand. There has not been a drug related death at the festival since the schemes inception in 2002.

With simple policies like drug education, testing and a scheme mirroring BOOM’s Kosmicare, effective, pragmatic solutions to the reality of drug use can be implemented. Society would be better if we ensured that when a young person makes one mistake, it won’t be their last.

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About Author

Chris Knutsen is an Economics and Politics student. He writes about international and national politics, as well as travel and popular culture.

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