Skip to main content

Police presence at music festivals increases chances of "panic overdosing", study shows

The Australian study surveyed festivalgoers at six music festivals in New South Wales that took place between November 2019 and March 2020

A new study carried out in Australia has found that the presence of police at music festivals can lead some attendees to "panic overdose", by consuming all their drugs prior to entering the site.

The study, led by researchers at the University of NSW, surveyed festivalgoers at six music festivals in New South Wales that took place between November 2019 and March 2020. Researchers asked 1229 participants to complete an anonymous survey around drug use habits, their intended drug use at the events, and how police and drug detection dogs influenced their drug use at the festivals they were attending.

Of the 1229 respondents, 372 said they used or planned to use drugs at the festival they were attending. Among that group, MDMA was the most popular drug among participants, with 268 of those 372 people saying they planned to use the drug. Cannabis, cocaine, LSD and ketamine use were also recorded.

Most importantly, researchers found there was a correlation between the presence of police and drug detection dogs, and higher-risk drug behaviours among festival attendees. 

Participants in the survey who said that the presence of police and police dogs influenced their decision to take drugs said they were twice as likely to "pre-load", meaning they would consume all their drugs before entering the festival grounds through fear of being caught in possession of illegal substances. The presence of police was also found to make people reluctant to seek medical help, according to the survey.

Speaking to The Guardian, Dr. Jonathan Brett, a senior research fellow at the University of NSW who was an author of the study, said: "There's a really growing body of evidence now in Australia that police and police dog presence and security strategies at festivals is actually potentially really harmful.

"I really hope we can have a conversation, not about removing police altogether but potentially about a different approach to policing strategies that isn't just about criminalising drug users. Everyone wants people to be safer and healthier, so we need to discuss how we can best achieve that."

Find the full study via the Drug And Alcohol Review.

Read DJ Mag's recent feature about why drug harm minimisation is more important for UK clubs than ever here.