Major festivals need to have drug testing on site to reduce the risk of drug deaths, a think-tank says.
Georgia Jones, 18, and Tommy Cowan, 20, died last weekend after taking a “bad batch” of class A drugs at Mutiny Festival in Portsmouth.
Volte Face, a drug policy think-tank, researches drug use and the effectiveness of current policies.
Its director, Steve Moore, told talkRADIO that the debate around whether to legalise drugs was irrelevant.
“The issue relating to what happened at the festival in Portsmouth is not about legalising drugs, but looking at education and drug testing,” he says.
'Nobody wants to legalise MDMA'
“The only drug that’s likely to be legalised in the next ten years is cannabis.
“There’s nobody legalising MDMA or cocaine or ketamine.
“When it comes to club drugs, it’s to do with safety. It’s a lot to do with the festivals themselves, they make money off facilitating drug taking but don’t provide the safety to do it.”
All festivals must obtain a license to operate from their local authority, and Moore said the largest events fear that, were they to have drug-testing facilities on site, it could jeopardise their license.
Revellers at Glastonbury Festival
Michael Eavis 'creates environment for drug use'
He called on Glastonbury chief Michael Eavis to make the Somerset festival safer for attendees who may take recreational drugs.
“The problem with all this stuff is the festival organisers, in order to get a license to run a festival, say ‘we’ve got a zero tolerance for drugs’,” he explains.
“What they don’t want to do then is bring in drug testing facilities which compromise their license.
The whole business models of festivals and clubs is based on facilitating the use of recreational drugs. Glastonbury is the best example.
So, Michael Eavis - his whole business is creating a massive environment [for drug-taking], and he doesn’t provide any of the safety facilities.
The public authorities go along with that and then you’ve got a situation that’s unsafe for people.”
Local authorities block drug testing
Volte Face works closely with The Loop, an organisation that provides drug testing facilities at festivals.
Last year they were at Boomtown, Secret Garden Party and Love Saves the Day festivals, and this year will be providing testing services at 10 UK events. They’ve just opened a drug-testing centre in Bristol, too.
“The Loop are the only company in Britain who provide drug testing. They crowdfunded for £50,000 to do drug testing around the country,” says Moore.
He added that he was lobbying all UK festivals to have drug testing facilities, and said it would actually help the police - but the problems were with the authorities granting the license.
“Police prefer an environment where they don’t have to carry people out who are overdosing, and sometimes public authorities will support, but mostly people who are working on the licensing side who refuse to let drug testing take place.”
'Festivals must admit people are at risk'
“It’s time for festivals to be honest and say there are drugs being consumed, and admit that people are at risk,” he added.
“We’re not advocating drug use, but we’re accepting that people will use drugs. In a sense, [festival organisers] profiteers. It suits them to go along with the government and turn a blind eye.”
There were two drug-related deaths at Glastonbury in 2014, one at Outbreak festival in 2015, and one at Bestival in 2017.
There were 3,744 drug poisoning deaths involving both legal and illegal drugs in England and Wales in 2016, according to the most recent data available.