A music festival has become the first event in the UK to allow party-goers to have their illegal drugs tested and handed straight back to them. A scheme at Secret Garden Party, launched as part of an agreement with police, allows festival-goers to have the contents of their drugs checked before taking them.
More than 80 “substances of concern” were assessed in the first day and a half of this year's festival, with a quarter then disposed of by “clients” after being found wanting. Organisers said very high strength ecstasy pills were found in circulation, as well as “multiple samples whose contents had been misrepresented” such as anti-malaria tablets purporting to be ketamine, and ammonium sulphate sold as MDMA.
The scheme, developed in partnership with Cambridgeshire police and local public health authorities, is based on the premise that testing drugs will reduce overdose and poisonings among those who would be using them anyway. Freddie Fellowes, founder of Secret Garden Party, said: “I am thrilled that we are able to pioneer this service; harm reduction and welfare is a vital part of hosting any event and it is an area that for too long has seen little development or advancement.”
Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said: “We all want to keep festival goers safe, so Transform congratulates the Secret Garden Party, police and council officers for supporting a pragmatic, health-based approach to drug use. “For many young people ‘Just say no’ simply doesn’t work, so ‘just say know’ is vital to help protect them. All drug use involves risks, but these are magnified by criminalisation, which gifts the market to criminals and unregulated dealers. Until the laws are reformed, testing and encouraging safer drug use is the least we can do.”He added it is now hoped the scheme will be rolled out to become “the norm” at all music festivals, saying it would be “negligent” for organisers to ignore it.
A bespoke Cambridgeshire Police web page for Secret Garden Party states there is a “zero tolerance approach to illegal drugs”, adding: “But if you are going to use them, be cautious.” Among their advice is: “Don't take more than you're used to, if you're taking pills, don't stack! Take one - wait a bit - then take another to judge whether the pill is strong or not.”
Professor Fiona Measham, co-founder and director of The Loop organisation which is providing the testing, said: “Here at the Secret Garden Party we took a big step forward because for the first time we’ve been able to offer the testing service to individual users as part of a tailored advice and information package provided by a team of experienced drugs workers.
“This can help people make informed choices, raising awareness of particularly dangerous substances in circulation and reducing the chance of drug-related problems occurring.”
By Hannah Furness - The Telegraph/July 24, 2016
Photo: Olivia Williams