Calls for drug testing to be 'standard part' of UK festival scene

The crowd by the main stage at the Reading Festival. Picture by Yui Mok/PA Wire
The crowd by the main stage at the Reading Festival. Picture by Yui Mok/PA Wire

Music festivals should provide drug testing facilities to help reduce health issues that are associated with recreational drug use, health experts have said.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) said testing facilities should be "standard" at festivals so revellers can test the strength and content of drugs they are considering taking.

It said that drug safety testing pilots at the Secret Garden Party and Kendall Calling festivals last summer, with the support of local police and public health officials, reduced the amount of potentially harmful substances circulating on site.

The family of Megan Bell, from Seaham, have already backed plans for such a scheme at Reading and Leeds festivals this year.

The 17-year-old, a pupil at St Anthony’s Catholic Girls Academy in Sunderland, died at the T in the Park music festival in Scotland last July. An inquest last month heard she had a "highly-concentrated" amount of ecstasy in her system.

Results of the pilots of drugs testing schemes, to be published later this month in RSPH's Public Health journal, suggest almost one in five users (18%) opted to dispose of their drugs once aware of the true content.

Service provider The Loop expects to extend the facilities to around eight UK festivals this summer.

The RSPH also believes that such safety testing facilities should also become a standard feature in nightclubs where drug use is common.

It said that a rise in ecstasy deaths in England and Wales - up from 10 in 2010 to 57 in 2015 - has been linked to an increase in the average strength of ecstasy pills.

"The rise in drug-related deaths at music festivals and night clubs is a growing problem for policymakers, health authorities and events companies alike," said RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer.

"While the use of stimulant 'club drugs' such as ecstasy can never be safe, and RSPH supports ongoing efforts to prevent them entering entertainment venues, we accept that a certain level of use remains inevitable in such settings.

"We therefore believe that a pragmatic, harm reduction response is necessary.

"The pilots carried out by The Loop last summer suggest providing drug safety testing facilities to festival-goers and night-clubbers is a promising part of the equation in preventing these deaths, both by exposing and reducing the circulation of super strength or adulterated pills, and by providing an opportunity to impart practical harm reduction advice to an audience who would not normally engage with drug services.

"We urge events companies to make these facilities a standard part of the UK festival and clubbing landscape, and we urge both local and national police and public health authorities to provide the support that will enable this."

Fiona Measham, professor of criminology at Durham University and director of The Loop, said: "We believe that prioritising public health over criminal justice for drug-users at a time of growing concern about drug-related deaths at festivals and nightclubs can help to reduce drug-related harm both on and off site."