Event drug testing can prevent harm and must be reintroduced to festivals by the 2024 season, says a prominent parliamentary committee in a new report released this week.
The Home Affairs Committee released their inquiry as a response to the government’s latest drugs strategy, ‘From Harm to Hope: A 10-Year drugs plan to cut crime and save lives’.
Reintroducing drug testing at festivals is one of many new recommendations presented to the Home Office in a report that often focuses on the need for harm reduction and the individual, rather than prosecution and fighting the ‘war on drugs’.
The committee, which is composed of around 30 MPs from different political parties, also recommended that a national drug testing service be established, similar to the WEDINOS shceme run by the Welsh Government.
“A national drug checking service in England could enable people to anonymously test samples of drugs, again preventing harm and potential death. We recommend the government establish a drug-checking service,” the report said.
“We also recommend the expansion of onsite drug-checking services at temporary events such as music festivals and in the night-time economy through the creation of a dedicated licensing scheme. The power to issue such licences could include the devolution of power to grant licences to local authorities.”
A similar recommendation for event based drug testing services was presented earlier this summer in a letter sent to the Home Secretary Suella Braverman. It was signed by Sam Tarry MP for Ilford South, the musicians Fatboy Slim and Billy Bragg, the organiser of Parklife festival Sacha Lord, Mike Kill CEO of The Nighttime Industries Association, Crispin Blunt MP for Reigate, members of the band Metronomy, and 30 more cross-party MPs.
The letter was sent in response to the Home Office’s decision not to allow the testing of drugs at Parklife festival in Manchester. Harm Reduction organisation The Loop has been carrying out drug testing at events since 2016 and has claimed to have helped 10,000 people in that time. It was subsequently reported that drug testing was not carried out at the Secret Garden Party festival in Cambridgeshire either. However, testing did go ahead as planned at Glastonbury, and the Reading and Leeds festivals.
Speaking to leafie, Sacha Lord welcomed the findings of the report. “It will be a relief to everyone working at festivals and in the night-time economy to finally see some political leadership on this issue. I speak on behalf of the whole industry when I thank the Home Affairs Committee for stepping in to clean up the Home Office’s mess.
“For years, events organisers have worked with the police and drugs testing firms to reduce the risk to life posed by dangerous substances. This summer the Home Office decided to flex its muscles and put a stop to all that, before denying it had even changed its policy.
“This report shows the Home Office made a mistake. I strongly support the report’s recommendations, and for the sake of the industry, parents and punters I hope that the government adopts them as soon as possible.”
In her appraisal, chair of the Home Affairs Committee Diana Johnson MP said the government’s new drug strategy needed a shift towards harm reduction and less of the traditional methods which are based on punishing people who use drugs.
“We need to have the right interventions in place to help people break free from the terrible cycles of addiction and criminality that drug addiction can cause. Simply attempting to remove drugs from people’s lives hasn’t worked,” she said.
“Over the course of the inquiry, we have seen a number of positive, locally developed schemes make a real difference to those suffering from addiction and the wider communities. The government should learn from the success as it develops best practice that can be implemented nationwide.”
In response to the Home Affairs Committee’s report, the Home Office said, “There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this.
“Our 10-year drugs strategy set out ambitious plans, backed with a record £3 billion funding over three years to tackle the supply of illicit drugs through relentless policing action and building a world-class system of treatment and recovery to turn people’s lives around and prevent crime.”