Anti-drugs campaigners have expressed dismay after the police backed plans to allow festival goers to test substances such as cocaine and ecstasy for purity before taking them.
The service, which will be offered at a string of live music events this summer, including the Reading and Leeds festivals, is intended to identify potentially dangerous drugs, so that users can make an informed choice.
Festival goers will be able to take illegal drugs to a testing tent, where analysts from an organisation called The Loop, identify the ingredients, before destroying the sample.
The scheme is being rolled out in response to a number of deaths attributed to drugs amongst young people attending music festivals in recent years.
Last year, 17-year-old Lewis Haunch died after taking drugs at Leeds Festival while in the same year two teenagers died at T In The Park in reportedly drug-related incidents.
Police leaders have said while they cannot condone the use of illegal drugs, they recognise that many young people will take them anyway and it is better if they are informed about what they are taking.
It is understood the National Police Chiefs' Council is working on guidelines which will encourage local forces to support similar schemes at festivals and nightclubs.
But anti-drug charities have questioned the wisdom of such an approach and have said the police should not be condoning the taking of illegal and potentially deadly narcotics.
David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, said: "I do not think senior police officers have thought this through with the clarity that the public deserve.
"This will simply normalise drug taking amongst the young and will reinforce the attitude that taking drugs is an integral part of the festival experience, which it is not.
"Another problem is that drug testing services offer an illusion of safety. They tell drug users about purity, but purity is not a measure of safety, quite the opposite in some cases. Drugs are illegal because they are unsafe and that is the message that the police ought to be giving.
"This also offers a helping hand to drug dealers by providing them with a testing service. They can get their supply checked before they go off and start pushing. That is something the police ought to be preventing not supporting."
Assistant Chief Constable, Andy Battle, of the West Yorkshire force, who is in charge of policing at the Leeds Festival, said while officers would continue to target dealers, it was important they had a pragmatic approach when it came to festival goers taking drugs.
He said: "We can never condone the use of illegal drugs, but we recognise that some people will continue to take them and we need to adapt our approach in the interests of public safety.
"Consuming controlled drugs is inherently dangerous and the tragic consequences of this have been illustrated with drugs-related deaths at the event in recent years.
"We will continue to work closely with the on-site security team to target the possession and supply of controlled drugs and the criminal law will be applied appropriately as necessary."
But in 2013, when she was home secretary, Theresa May dismissed a proposal to pre-test drugs at a nightclub in Manchester, arguing that “if somebody has purchased something that the state has deemed illegal, it’s not then for the state to go and test it for you.”
Commander Simon Bray of the National Police Chiefs' Council said before officially endorsing such schemes, they needed to understand the implications for policing and that is something which is currently being explored.
He said: "Police forces are committed to reducing the harm caused by all drugs and urge people to remember that drugs are ‘controlled’ because they have been shown to be harmful."
He added: "We could not support initiatives that do not comply with the law or that have unintended negative consequences.
“Any proposal would need to be considered by the police force, local authority and health services with a view on it’s legal, scientific and possible health implications.”
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