Secret Garden Party became the first UK festival to introduce on-site drug testing for festival goers at the event over the weekend (22nd-24th July), allowing people to check what is in their illegal substances.
The service was run by charity The Loop, who have previously tested drugs seized by police, dropped in amnesty bins or provided by paramedics as a result of a medical incident at events like The Warehouse Project. The scheme was operated at Secret Garden Party with the backing of the local Cambridgeshire council and police.
Speaking about the service at the event the festival’s founder, Freddie Fellowes, said he was “thrilled” to be able to pioneer the service, adding, “Harm reduction and welfare is a vital part of hosting any event and it’s an area that for too long has seen little development or advancement.”
Speaking about the work done by The Loop at the event, Fiona Measham, co-founder of the organisation, added, “For the first time we’ve been able to offer the testing service to individual users as part of a tailored advice and information package provided by a team of experienced drugs workers.
“This can help people make informed choices, raising awareness of particularly dangerous substances in circulation and reducing the chance of drug-related problems occurring.”
Around 200 people used the testing facilities, with high-strength pills found to be in circulation, as well as a number of samples with substances that had been misrepresented. These include ammonium sulphate sold as MDMA and anti-malaria tablets sold as ketamine.
Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, played a large part in negotiations for setting up the service at Secret Garden Party. Speaking about the work that had been done, he said, “Around a quarter of people who brought in their drugs then asked us to dispose of them when they discovered that they had been mis-sold or were duds. We were taking dangerous substances out of circulation.”
Rolles added that he hopes more festivals will “take the plunge” and follow Secret Garden Party’s lead by offering drug testing services for festival goers on-site, but appreciates it all depends on the cooperation of local police and councils.
“Until the laws are reformed, testing and encouraging safer drug use is the least we can do,” he added. “We hope this groundbreaking service becomes the norm for all such events.”
Rob McCallum is DJ Mag’s digital news writer. Follow him on Twitter here.