By Jess Warren
This summer, hundreds of thousands of young people attended festivals across the country, celebrating a break from schools, exams and university deadlines. I’m sure we all know, festivals are commonplace for the consumption of illegal drugs, so much so, that to enforce a complete ban would be impractical in terms of resources. This would also act as a huge stand against liberal movements for the legalisation of cannabis, and increased awareness around other drugs such as MDMA, and ecstasy. Whatever your opinion may be on the legality of recreational drugs, it is clear more needs to be done to protect people from harm. This is something that was acted upon across a wide variety of live music events this summer.
The Loop are a harm reduction, non-profit charity that provides drug safety testing at nightclubs and festivals. Although established in 2013, their presence at festivals has grown exponentially in the past few years, heralded being particularly successful at Parklife, The Secret Garden Party, Boomtown Fair and many more this year. In a festival situation, The Loop have pop-up labs that can test the content and potency of illegal drugs. The technology allows for purity testing with an accuracy of 90-95%. They would then destroy the sample given to them, but allow the festival-goers to decide if they want to take the drugs themselves. This is hoped to give people more information and choice before they consume the drugs they have bought, particularly as many substances are sold under the label of another. In 2016, the scheme found that ground-up malaria tablets were being falsely sold as cocaine, as well as tablets designed for cleaning dentures being branded as ecstasy. The Loop aim to take away the danger of putting something unknown into your body.
The move for safety-testing facilities at more festivals and live music events is supported by Police forces, and the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), who have linked the recent increase in deaths from the usage of recreational drugs to stronger substances, and a lack of information on the contents of pills and powders. It is a well known fact that many festival-goes will purchase, smuggle in, and then consume a variety of illegal drugs, but police are supporting the scheme, as it is hoped to reduce drug-related deaths and hospitalisations. In 2016, Lewis Haunch, aged seventeen, died after taking drugs at Leeds Festival, with two other two teenagers reportedly dying of drug-related incidents at T in the Park. Tragic as these losses are, it is important to learn something from these deaths, and roll-out drug testing facilities across the entirety of festivals in the UK.
As someone that enjoys attending festivals and many different live music events with friends, it seems that a service that will test the purity of many substances is only going to be valuable. As well as this, RSPH have suggested the work of The Loop can significantly help in revealing and reducing the number of super-strength or adulterated pills. Whilst some critics would argue the scheme is falsely branding the drugs as safer to take once they have been tested, yet knowing what is in them is surely a step forward in the safer usage of recreational drugs.
The issue has generated much controversy and concern that even high profile politicians have felt the need to comment on it. PM Theresa May, and critic to the testing of drugs stated “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.” Arguably, it is this short-sightedness and dismissal of public safety that further decreases her popularity among many young people. Conversely, former Deputy PM and fomer Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg supports the work of The Loop as “it will literally save lives”. Perhaps it is the support from liberal politicians that could explain why festival-goes can be heard for miles chanting ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’.