Drug testing and alert system introduced for Irish festivals

Jun 23, 2023

Earlier in May, Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) announced the launch of its new drug harm-reduction campaign for music festivals. The program originated as a drug testing pilot that was first introduced at the Electric Picnic music festival in 2022, and will be implemented for music festivals this year.

“I am delighted to see the HSE Safer Nightlife Programme progress and expand into its second year. It is an excellent example of reducing the harms of drug use through interagency work and engaging closely with people who may be considering using drugs,” says Hildegarde Naughton, Minister for Public Health, Wellbeing, and the National Drugs Strategy in a released statement.

Specifically, the campaign involves providing a drug-checking service to identify dangerous substances in drugs in order to alert attendees and prevent associated harms, as well as to monitor drug market trends of concern.

The drug testing program involves festival goers anonymously placing drugs into designated bins at the HSE harm reduction tent and the festival medical tent. Subsequently, the substances will be moved by accredited staff members to an onsite portable laboratory and analyzed by HSE National Drug Treatment Centre Laboratory staff using a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) machine.

“We can access drugs in a safe, non-judgemental manner to quickly gain insight on what drugs may be in circulation and issue real time drug alerts about substances of concern to festival attendees via our social media channels,” said HSE’s national clinical lead for addiction services Dr. Eamon Keenan in his interview with BBC News.

In 2022, as part of the pilot program, HSE discovered several trends of concern at Electric Picnic, including drugs of high potency, 12 new psychoactive substances, and four drugs which had never been previously identified in Ireland. This year, the HSE will also be working with Irish police to guarantee their medical tents are safe spaces for attendees to talk about their drug use.

“While the HSE recognizes that it is safer not to use drugs at all and there is always risk, the campaign has been developed in response to a changing drug landscape in Ireland and aims to offer people who use drugs practical harm-reduction information on how they can reduce health harms if they choose to use,” added Dr. Keenan.