Experts recommend pilot schemes to test drugs at festivals

"Drug checking is a beneficial prevention and harm reduction measure"

Health experts have recommended that the Irish government launch a pilot programme to test drugs at music festivals.

A new report issued by The Health and Safety Executive National Social Inclusion Office suggests that ‘back of house’ drug checking should take place at such events for a limited period.

The findings, which are based in Ireland, states that festivals are a “risk-taking environment” where punters are likely to experiment with illegal substances.


As per the document, the measures would include “analysing substances that are not directly obtained from people who use drugs such as through ‘amnesty bins’ or law enforcement seizures”.

This would be separate from ‘front of house’ testing, where users voluntarily take their drugs to be analysed.

The pilot could pave the way for the development of a full ‘front of house’ approach for festivals, should the results from the ‘back of house’ system prove positive.

The DCMS has stressed the need for drugs testing (Picture: Alamy)

‘Front of house’ testing has been shown to “develop rapport with populations who may not attend nominated community or addiction services”.

“Direct intervention with nightlife populations could also facilitate screening for areas of concern, onward referral to suitable services and data collection to further inform responses,” the report added.


It’s said that the ‘back of house’ approach would need less formal policy modifications, and has been discussed with Ireland’s Department Of Justice.

As Mixmag reports, the HSE prepared two proposals to pilot Ireland’s first ‘front of house’ testing initiatives at two festivals in 2019. However, these ideas “were unable to proceed due to legal issues”.

HSE stated that the “increased purity and potency” of drugs was of concern, particularly high-strength MDMA. It also noted the potential dangers of mixing numerous substances, with there being an increase in ketamine, 2-CB and GHB.

Fake MDMA pills parklife

A separate HSE study of Irish festivals in 2021 found a high level of willingness among ticketholders to participate in the scheme. Ninety-four per cent of respondents had taken drugs at a festival, with more than a quarter having subsequently fallen ill.

The report concluded that “drug checking is a beneficial prevention and harm reduction measure that should be considered as an extension of current health structures. A pilot project is recommended in a festival setting initially through a ‘back of house’ approach.”

It added: “Should the pilot evaluation of a ‘back of house’ system prove positive, a comprehensive front of house approach should be considered.”

You can read the paper in full here.

Back in June, the UK government was urged to back substance checks at festivals after a report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee warned of a surge in drug-related deaths.

In its evidence, the DCMS noted that since 2016 “there have been no drug-related deaths at any festival [with drug checking]”.

Last month’s Reading & Leeds festivals launched an extensive drug outreach campaign. Titled ‘Look Out for Each Other’, the programme was the first-ever drug advice campaign from the dual event.

“We want these messages to be in people’s heads and not for them to see them when they first get there when it is potentially too late,” explained Dan Burn, the public health lead for drugs and alcohol in Leeds.