Study: Drug-checking services make festivals safer

According to the results of a new scientific study, implementing drug-checking services at festivals is linked to a significant reduction in drug-related harms. In addition, the study found that the use of drug-checking services at such events also allows effective interventions for higher-risk drug users and does not increase the quantities of drugs being consumed.

The research study was conducted by researchers at the University of Liverpool and published in the journal Drugs, Habits and Social Policy focused on drug-checking and the use of drug-checking services made available to festival attendees over the period spanning 2016-2018. Specifically, researchers focused on the drug-checking services provided by the The Loop – a non-profit, harm-reduction organisation led by the University of Liverpool’s Professor Fiona Measham at festivals in the UK.

In addition, the results of the study showed that individuals who opted for drug-checking services at festivals were more likely to be of younger age, male, and polydrug users, who had not previously accessed health services about their alcohol or other drug use. The study demonstrated that two-thirds of individuals who used the drug-checking services (61.7%) disposed of substances of concern when they were identified as other than expected. When the tested substances matched expectations, 48.7% of individuals who opted for testing intended to reduce how much they consumed, thereby reducing the risk of drug-related harm.

Importantly, the study found no evidence that drug-checking provision increased drug-taking at festivals, with only 1.2% of respondents whose tested drug was identified as what they expected saying they intended to increase their dosage as a result of checking.

“We know that English festivals are leisure settings with higher levels of drug use, polydrug use and therefore a higher overdose risk than in everyday life. By placing drug-checking services at the heart of festivals where people are buying drugs, taking drugs and experiencing their ill effects, we can also make festivals sites of overdose prevention,” said the study’s principal investigator Dr. Fiona Measham, Professor and Chair in Criminology, University of Liverpool, in her interview with Mirage News.

In addition, the study highlighted the findings from the Red Cross charity that provided medical assistance at the Bristol-based Love Saves the Day Festival in 2017 and 2018, which found that there was a 12% reduction in drug related medical incidents in 2018, when drug-checking services were in place, compared with 2017.

“Despite common misconceptions, drug-checking services don’t give people the green light to take drugs. I found, when the Loop provided drug-checking at our festival, this actually helped to reduce drug-taking as, after having their substances tested, a significant number of people would either reduce the quantity of drugs taken or even throw their drugs away,” said Tom Paine, Managing Director of Love Saves The Day, one of the festivals included in the study.

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