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Olivia Stock
31 May 2024, 11:16

UK festival drug testing to resume this summer following Home Office licence debacle

The Home Office has confirmed it has issued drug-testing licences to “some of the leading festivals in the UK”

Harm minimalisation graphic

Drug testing will restart at festivals across the UK this summer, after controversial licensing laws saw reduced services in 2023.

In a statement published last week (24th May), the Home Office said that it will proceed with licensed testing at some of the nation’s “leading festivals” as a “continuation of long-standing government policy” on harm reduction.

The announcement follows last year’s controversial last-minute move requiring drug testing organisations to apply for special licenses. Associated costs (reportedly upwards of £3,000) and long waiting times for licenses to be approved meant that harm reduction charities such as The Loop were unable to operate at some festivals in 2023, including at Manchester’s Parklife. Provisions had previously relied on agreements with localised police forces.

The Loop announced the news on X, writing: “We are resuming our festival drug testing services again this summer, having obtained the first Home Office licence ever issued for onsite festival testing! This is a huge endorsement for The Loop’s work.”

More licences are expected to be issued “in the coming weeks” and as in previous years, organisations wishing to deliver ‘back-of-house’ drug testing must apply for a Home Office licence to operate. 

“It is important that we are able to proceed this year with drug testing,” shared Katy Porter, CEO of The Loop, in a new statement. “The drug market is changing, and we are able to plan and prepare in our harm reduction messaging and response when we are informed regarding the drugs which are in circulation, and equipped with accurate and current information.”

“Licensed by the Home Office and in line with government policy, The Loop’s aim of reducing the consumption of adulterants and contaminated drugs, and reducing the risk of poisoning and overdose, has been welcomed by the two festivals The Loop will be working with”, she added.

When working with individual events, the charity sets up a mobile laboratory where ticket-holders can anonymously present substances for analysis by trained testers. Any concerns that arise from the results of these tests — for example, unusually high strength or dangerous impurities — trigger message alerts to festivalgoers in real time.

Supporters of the service say that the warnings issued by the testing saves lives, providing vital information to emergency services when treating anyone who has fallen ill, as well as a greater understanding of the drugs which are in circulation and tracking of emergent threats such as synthetic opioids.

The decision to reinstate licensed testing has been described as “life-saving” by Manchester’s night time economy advisor, Sacha Lord. “Drug testing at festivals is undeniably critical, and I am extremely pleased that the Home Office has approved their ongoing use,” he shared.

“I would like to thank the cross-party MPs who have supported this move, and those behind the scenes at the Home Office who have worked so hard to ensure we have these licenses in place ahead of this year’s festival season.”

In a statement, Parklife’s Jon Drape added, “On-site drug testing is a cornerstone of our harm reduction strategy and we are delighted to have The Loop on-site with us this year”.

The Home Office has outlined a series of “strict conditions” to be followed by drug testing organisations in the announcement, including that “confiscated or surrendered drugs will be tested on-site and public alerts will be cascaded to festival goers if extremely potent drugs are detected to protect the public as much as possible and help prevent drug-related harm.”

Read the full statement from the Home Office here.

In January, The Loop opened the UK's first regular drug checking service in Bristol. The non-profit is also running a series of online drug testing and harm reduction training courses, which you can sign up for here.

Last month, a new initiative, Safer States, was introduced in the UK to address drug safety and harm reduction in nightlife settings.

For more on the necessity of harm reduction policies, revisit Ed Gillett’s 2021 feature on the UK government failings and other countries' open-minded successes.