Drugs at Festivals; our problem or theirs?
28th February 2018
What’s the issue?
Music festivals and all that they bring are the highlight of the year for many. They are filled with the promise of fun, laughter and provide a haven filled with like-minded individuals to escape the burden of day-to-day life, even just for a weekend. While this seems like the perfect way to break the monotony, there are certain elements to festivals that are not always so fun. Alongside the usual overpriced drinks, broken tents and portaloos, drug abuse at festivals is a tale as old as time.
Drug use at festivals is not a secret, which is potentially more concerning than if they were. Is it possible those in charge are turning a blind eye? Is the number of attendees more important than their welfare and safety? At events where, according to The Guardian (2012), the value of drugs that are seized can be in excess of £80,000, should event managers be doing more to stop them getting in, in the first place? These are important questions that are possibly too late.
A large number of festivals have suffered from the death of an attendee, with one festival in particular experiencing four deaths in the past five years. The most recent was in 2016 where an 18-year old girl was found unconscious and pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. Is this surprising… Fake drugs containing crushed malaria pills and pesticides and dosages that are too strong, all in the hands of attendees with a lack of knowledge and experience. All of these elements creating a deadly combination for someone just trying to have a good time. Can more be done? And ultimately, whose problem is it?
The shift in responsibility…
When tragedy strikes at a festival, after a death from drug abuse, the blame is ready to be placed, but on who? Will the finger inevitably be pointed towards us? Some festivals goers have blamed the extortionate pricing of alcohol as reasoning to ‘smuggle’ drugs. Would changing prices make a difference?
As event managers, we are in control, so if our attendees are abusing drugs, one way or another the blame will eventually fall back on us. Event managers can lose their licenses if they are not taking the appropriate measures concerning attendee welfare. We can seek out help from others to prevent this issue. An option available is to create an agreement of responsibility with more qualified personnel, such as the police and security details. This prevents people blaming the event managers, but instead, allowing the appropriate party to take responsibility of the ongoing issue.
But, should all the responsibility be given to just one party?
What about the individuals choosing to take an illicit substance? Are they responsible for when it all goes wrong? Many festival goers will seek to enhance their experience through the use of drugs and in some cases, it ends with the worst case scenario. Is it fair that the event manager should face consequences for the actions taken by those individuals? Especially as security measures have already been put in place.
So, now what?
Organisations have spent years fighting to steer the UK drug policy away from its traditional reliance on abstinence and criminal justice, but instead drive their focus towards public health and harm reduction. The existence of companies such as The Loop and the Bunk Police, are here to lend a helping hand! Assisting us to keep our events safe.
The notion of drug testing is becoming increasingly present at a number of large UK festivals, including, Reading/ Leeds, Boomtown and Secret Garden Party. It is undeniably true that managing drug use at events can save lives. Despite law enforcement, event managers and attendees are not naive, and we are fully aware drugs will, regrettably still make their way onto an event site, therefore implementing more strategies, will help prevent the inevitable.
As Events managers we will constantly be at war with the epidemic on drugs, but knowledge is our best weapon, and providing information to attendees can mean the difference between life and death. Enlisting organisations such as The Loop to provide harm reduction, advice and information as well as support, drug safety testing and training is a great opportunity. Drug testing at events allows event attendees to make informed decisions about their drug use. The media has highlighted that attendees utilizing this innovative feature have disposed of their drugs when faced with results of impure substances that were potentially dangerous. However, this method will hold some controversy, one of the most common criticisms of drug testing is that it could encourage drug use.
Is drug testing too controversial?
As events managers it is common practice that a zero tolerance on drugs should always be implemented. However is a safe, controllable environment also paramount? The use of outside companies such as the Loop and features such as amnesty bins, free water and trained medical staff are simple measures that can prevent fatalities at our events.
What do you think is the way forward for event managers to control drug abuse, comment below to share your thoughts?