Drugs at Festivals; our problem or theirs?

Categories and tags:
Spring 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…Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 10.48.17

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?


Photo credit: Howard Parker

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?


Chris Langdon says:

It would be way too impractical to check every single person at a festival for drugs, I think it would be better and more efficient to have “moles” in the festival people who report anyone selling or taking drugs.

Definitely an interesting approach to the situation. However, would this create safety risks towards these “moles”?

Chris Langdon says:

Well that would depend how the people in authority approach it, if they scream and applaud when someone does come forward then yes. If they keep it anonymous I can’t see how anyone would be able to find out who it was. Given my experience of festivals, people who are selling drugs will offer it to about anyone they walk past therefore making their list of suspects a pretty long one

Dan Douglas says:

No one should have to take responsibility for another person taking illegal substances, it’s their choice and they should face any consequences they cause

Thank you for voicing your opinion. What consequences do you feel would be appropriate, and would they involve law enforcement?

James Porter says:

Why not ban every festival that has evidence of illegal drugs being used? If you can’t stop them bringing drugs, stop the event itself!

Interesting perspective James, though the use of drugs is so prominent, there are still attendees that will not abuse drugs, should they be missing out on the opportunity to celebrate their favourite music?

Natalie says:

Quite like the idea of drug tests without repercussions, I wonder if people got to see that the drugs they were taking were mixed with so many substances they were unaware of it would deter them completely- or at least make it a bit safer if they chose to take it regardless

Good point, we believe that the testing will help to create a safer environment. Do you think that due to there being no repercussions, it permits the use of drugs ?

James says:

I agree with both previous points; I agree random testing is a good idea, but it must be completely free of repercussions to get the most benefit from it. If the testing environment is comfortable and informal, the more likely the user will be to listen and understand the risks of what they are taking. Despite this, I also agree the users should be responsible for their own actions, the risk of drug abuse is not a secret anymore, ignorance can’t be an excuse.

James, a fantastic point. Ignorance should not be an option. Do you believe that companies like the loop are providing this informal, comfortable environment?

Katie says:

It’s a mixture of everyone’s responsibility. If the event manages know it’s going to be a problem, maybe they should focus on changing people’s minds towards drugs instead of threatening legal actions such as the authorities. The more people are told they can’t do something, the more likely they are to do it.

Kat says:

I definitely think increased drug testing would help. But to make a bigger impact on people’s decision making when at a festival then wider campaigns would be needed to educate and inform about the effects of drugs and how to test what you’re taking. Ultimately if people want to take drugs then they will, and they are, so the event managers should make the environment safe for this inevitability. Interesting article.

Ben says:

As a keen “festival-goer” I believe that the responsibility falls directly on the individual. To counter this, a safe environment is needed which is the responsibility of the events manager. I feel that in listing companies such as the loop is a great way to monitor the drug epidemic that is ever present at festivals.

What do you think event managers can do to create this ‘safe environment’ ? Isn’t creating this safe environment almost promoting drug use? Do you think companies like the Loop will reduce the use of drugs or just ‘monitor’ the epidemic?

Charlie says:

Super ingesting angle to view what is a growing question and concern all over the world , personally I think it all falls down to the what is most important to all parties if it is safety then open drug testing would be the answer with no repercussions, there is nothing at these events to stop people consuming a lethal amount of alcohol but we try to educate people about how to enjoy alcohol responsibly, arresting people etc will rightly or wrongly stop some people going to certain festivals and also removes the freedom feel you get at a festival. It’s very possible the you could focus on just finding the dealers whilst allowing people to continue to enjoy themselves taking drugs safely.

Very interesting point about the issue surrounding alcohol! Do you think event managers have focused to much on the dangers and prevention of alcohol consumption, and have just turned a blind eye to drug abuse ? Do you think that Chris’ point about ‘moles’ is a good idea?

G says:

Each person is responsible for the decisions they make, however if an organiser can take steps to ensure safety then they should surely do so? Just because it is a festival and it has become the norm for drugs to be consumed it doesn’t make it ok to turn a blind eye to it.

Very good point! Do you think that event managers are currently ‘turning a blind eye’ to drug use at their events? From your perspective do features like drug testing improve safety for festival attendees?

Joe Moran says:

I agree G! Every person should take full responsibility for their actions! Maybe festival manager should be working with the police to help educate what is inside the drugs being taken at festivals. Last year I saw multiple festivals with drug testing facilities. The drugs don’t get taken away from the consumer, but the testers explain what was inside the drugs, the harm of it, and how to prevent addiction (education). Maybe this is the path for the future 🙂

Do you think that police presence at events may create a hostile and negative environment, even if they are just there to educate? Is the change in focus towards public health and harm reduction the for all festivals?

Lousia says:

An interesting and thought provoking piece. Surely people need to take the responsibility themselves if they take the drugs – it certainly isn’t fair that the events organisers are liable and should take the consequences. It is horrendous enough for them to know that a festival goer has died at an event that have put on. That’s the problem with today’s society – always looking for someone else to blame and never their fault! Drugs have been prevalent in our society forever, in one form or another and regardless of education people are given throughout their whole lives about the dangers of drugs by government campaigns, at school or personal experiences and loss, people still do it! I don’t think it will ever be eradicated completely but will the drug testing at festivals actually exacerbate the situation as people feel that it is acceptable and the ‘norm’, when it shouldn’t be? That said, some of the most unacceptable behaviour I have observed at festivals is linked to excess alcohol consumption. Difficult and complex debate……

Thank you for this in-depth response. It is defiantly distressing to know that event managers may carry the burden of horrific situations on their back. I agree that in todays society people are quick to point the finger. But that brings us back to the point of who is to blame where does the responsibility lie?
I don’t think that drug testing will necessary promote drugs to be the ‘norm’, but just act as a prevision to decrease fatalities.

jlannon2014 says:

Whilst drug testing seems rather archaic, it is not necessarily about stopping people it allows police to stop and search. They aren’t looking for casual users but suppliers. We have to prove that we are being vigilant without seeming to be draconian.

Hi John,

I agree that some drug testing has become archaic. However, new and more effective research in testing has been adapted through time and technology.
Instead of causing disruption to attendee entry with long stop and search procedures, the guests can have their drugs tested with no consequences to see whether the drugs they have are safe or contaminated.
This may not put a stop to drugs coming in, but it will make it a safer environment for attendees and will open eyes to the dangers of drug use and is more likely to prevent the attendees from using.
Less drug use, less attraction to drug suppliers!

TG says:

I agree that it would be impractical to fully search all attendees but sniffer dogs at the entrance could seriously help prevention! I also think spreading awareness before and during the festival about the deaths drugs have caused and also the kinds of punishment that’s enforced for anyone caught taking or handling drugs could be helpful in the prevention. Random drug tests for people that seem as though they’ve taken part in consumption would be effective in keeping that individual safe and also making an impact on the people around them hopefully putting them off following the same footsteps!

Do you think focusing heavily on policing the issue through law enforcement, sniffer dogs, and random drug testing would potentially cause a hostile environment ?

Eve says:

Great read! Turning a blind eye to it happening it the worst thing so testing it a good alternative.

Thanks Eve, we are on board with the testing too!

Julie Atherton says:

I think people should be randomly spot checked for drug use – that way it may put a little worry or fear into those using and reduce the amount of drugs at festivals. If tested positive then these people would face consequences and would be removed from the event (and all future events if the festival organisers worked together on this! All details of people found with drugs should be circulated to all organisers.

Thank you for raising some very interesting ideas ! Who would be conducting these random drug tests, would it be the police? Do you think that this method would work along side services such as the Loop or replace them ?

Matt says:

The responsibility lies with the individuals, in this day and age everyone is aware of the risks associated with drug abuse. A consequence of this desire to take drugs means ploughing money into controlling the issue is an unfortunate necessity. Perhaps without realising it, drug users are both driving up ticket prices and taking away from the full potential of any event.

Thank you for your comment. What suggestions could you make in order to restore the full potential of the event?

Emily says:

The respsonsibiliry of drug abuse lies solely with the individual. I think there should be stronger repercussions for the people who choose to take drugs and should have a punishment with more consequences.

Thank you for your comment. What would be your suggestions for reducing drug abuse at festivals, would you think a higher police presence would be beneficial?

Maggie says:

I feel individuals are responsible for taking as many precautions as possible if they decide to take drugs. They know the risks and should endeavour to be as safe as possible.
However, I believe festival organisers, knowing that drugs will be available, despite the presence of law enforcement , should take adequate steps to ensure festival guests safety. This should include free onsite safe testing as well as educational advice and even random checks to make sure those taking drugs are safe.
Perhaps a station where those worried about friends, or individuals who don’t like the reaction they are having can call in for support.
I do believe police should be present in s low key way but also make people aware, when they know there is a dodgy batch of any drug currently doing the rounds on the drugs scene.
There is no single responsible group for drug safety at festivals it is a combination of all those involved.

Thank you for your comment. It’s a good idea to have a station that are worried about friends. Do you think that this could be successful if put in place at festivals?

Dai says:

The individual should know what the consequences are of taking drugs. A person should be strong enough to say No to stuff that’s no good for them! Although drug searches and banning people would be good at organised events.

Thank you for your comment. Do you feel that drug searches could have a negative effect on attendees that are at the festivals just for the music and not using drugs?

Lisa says:

I don’t believe there is any straight forward solution to this issue and I think all those involved need to acknowledge this and take all the steps they can to help. While I do think individuals are responsible for their own actions I also think there is a great deal of pressure on people , particularly young people and support should be available .
Could event organisers work with law enforcement agencies? Spot checks? Support networks ?
Working together is the only way to tackle this issue ….

Thank you for your comment. What suggestions would you make that would help event organisers and law enforcement work better together?

Clare says:

I don’t think there’s any sure fire way to stop drug use at festivals and for some it’s part of the ‘festival experience’ so looking at safety and education including testing the drugs to educate people on what exactly they are putting in their bodies seems like an excellent idea. Working together on this rather than creating a hostile environment seems a good step.

Thank you for your comment. Do you feel that there would be a benefit of the drug testing tents being at all festivals for the attendees to use?

Comments are closed.