A recent Australian study published in Drug and Alcohol Review has found that police presence at music festivals can lead some attendees to “panic overdose”.
The study, led by researchers from St Vincent’s Clinical School at the University of NSW, surveyed festival-goers at six major Australian music festivals that took place between November 2019 and March 2020.
1229 participants were asked to self-complete an anonymous survey about their intended drug use and associated higher-risk behaviours. Behaviours identified included double dropping (consuming two or more doses of MDMA at once), mixing stimulants, (higher-volume alcohol use alongside drug use), and preloading (consuming all of their drugs prior to entering the festival).
Of the 1229 participants, 30% used or planned to use drugs at the festival. Of those using MDMA, almost 50% reported double dropping. People using drugs for the first time were three times more likely than regular drug users to take higher-volume ethanol alongside drug use. Maybe less surprising was the findings that men were also more likely to engage in higher-risk behaviours.
The survey findings on types of drugs taken are not surprising with MDMA reported as the most commonly used drug of choice. 77% of those who reported using drugs said they had used it that day or intended to. Other drugs including cocaine, cannabis, LSD/acid and ketamine were also recorded.
This study findings call for a change in approach to drug surveillance and policing culture at festivals and large events. One alarming outcome of the survey reported that the police and police dog presence influenced drug use with consumers increasing the odds to decide to consume all their drugs prior to entering the site in an attempt to avoid being caught.
This study calls for a change in drug surveillance and policing culture at festivals and large events.
In 2017 British music festival Creamfields released a set of warning posters prior to the event.
But rather than ‘nudging’ the festival-goers into abstaining from drug-taking, it caused fear and panic amongst the first time drug users, in particular. The survey findings suggest that this policing approach could scare individuals into consuming all of their drugs before entering the site. Scaremongering among young festival-goers may end up causing more harm than good.
Adam Waugh, senior healthcare team of drug checking and harm reduction organisation The Loop says, “there are a number of measures which venues could consider if they want to improve customer safety. Drug checking has been shown to reduce high-risk drug use. Events should consider investing in drugs awareness training for their staff, and providing experienced and properly funded welfare teams. These are all likely to be more effective than sniffer dogs, which may actually increase the likelihood of people taking drugs in a higher risk way.”
Redistributing some of the money that is put into drugs surveillance and policing and channelling it into drug safety testing and harm reduction services would potentially be a safer and smarter move in protecting festival attendees.