Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Every summer, thousands of Brits descend upon fields for a weekend of debauchery and care-free fun. Music festivals have become an engrained part of British youth culture and are a rite of passage for many. Whilst some go to festivals for the music, some for drinking all day with friends, lots of people choose to experiment with recreational party drugs. The NHS estimate that almost half of 16-24 year olds have experimented with recreational drugs, with many choosing festivals as the perfect place. However, experimentation can have a much more insidious side when people do not know what they are actually taking or the strength of the narcotics they have. This is where the importance of drug testing and education around drugs becomes paramount.
Boomtown Fair is the perfect example of how free, anonymous and judgement free drug testing can save lives and improve the festival experience for everyone. In 2016, 18 year old Livvy Christopher became the fourth person to die at the festival in five years as a result of drug use. Boomtown was quickly becoming a hotbed for dangerous usage of drugs which had catastrophic effects. The festival did not react with a ‘crackdown’ on drugs getting smuggled in, instead began to provide drug testing using the non-profit organisation The Loop.
Their mission statement is to provide harm reduction services and drug testing in festivals in order to ensure that people know what they are putting in their bodies. Users of the service are able to anonymously drop off a sample for testing and return in a few hours to get the results and a short harm reduction talk from one of the volunteers. They test to see what the sample actually is, whether it is cut with anything, and the strength of the actual drug.
At festivals across the country, The Loop has found ketamine sold as cocaine, and boric acid, concrete and malaria tablets all sold as various other drugs. Testing the strength is also particularly important. The average content of MDMA in a single pill is on the rise. In the 1990s and early 2000s, pills often contained between 50-80mg, but this has soared to 125mg, with some pills containing as much as 240mg. Should this much be taken by a small-bodied teenage girl, it is probable that it would lead to an overdose. Since The Loop has operated at Boomtown they have not had any drug related deaths and medical professionals on site have seen far fewer drug related health issues.
The Loop is helping to catch the UK up to the rest of Europe where drug testing has become much more of a norm, even for illegal recreational drugs. In Zurich, mobile drug checking units have been stationed across the country in nightlife hotspots since 2001. This is also accompanied by the Drug Information Centre (DIZ) which offers drug testing twice a week. Since these policies have been introduced, Switzerland has not had a single drug related death in seven years. Many festivals in the UK are still refusing The Loop access to their festivals and maintaining their zero-tolerance policies on drugs. This blatantly ignores the glaring evidence that drug testing and harm reduction reduces the amount of drug related casualties and emergency services needed.