Drug Testing at Festivals explained

With summer rapidly approaching, people from all over the world will be planning holidays away with friends. But for party goers this can only mean one thing, festival season.

Music festivals have become increasingly popular in recent years in the UK and last year saw that more people than ever were flocking to watch live music, with attendance at festivals at an all-time high. Statistics released from the Guardian on 10th July 2017 stated that there had been a 12% rise in audiences at live music events over the past 12 months, bringing £4bn in to the UK economy.

Photograph taken by Boomtown

Although they are an enjoyable place to be, they also have a reputation for drug use. Festival drugs, such as MDMA and LSD, are a part of the festival experience for many people.

Despite all UK festivals holding a no tolerance policy for illegal substances, previous experience has proved that drugs have and will continue to make their way into festivals. As a result of this, every year the UK faces the issue of potential fatalities due to drug misuse.


Ecstacy, photo taken by Willy Turner

What is drug testing?

Drug checking, also known as pill testing or adulterant screening, is a harm reduction service that helps drug users avoid ingesting unknown and potentially more dangerous adulterants found in street drugs. Drug checking services also assist emergency medical professionals and public health agencies in identifying trends in illicit drug markets, so they can better serve the needs of the community.


What do people think?

Regular festival attender, Mia Wong said ‘I think it’s a good idea because everyone at the festival wants to have a good time and by doing drug testing they’re ensuring that people are safe.’

However, some people disagree and think that drug testing will promote the idea of drug use being acceptable.



Boomtown on drug testing

One festival adamant to make a change to the number of deaths caused by drugs is Boomtown. Last year, Festicket Magazine’s number one ranked festival Boomtown, introduced drug testing on-site. This facility allows for their customers to anonymously test their drugs so that they know how harmful their substance may be. The Harm Reduction scheme was introduced to raise awareness on the dangers of drugs and limit casualties.

Photo taken by Boomtown

In a video that was released via their website, Boomtown stated that ‘we wanted to have a much more encompassing approach, try our best to keep drugs out, but acknowledge that they will get in and then what can we do to keep people safe?’



What are they planning on doing this year?

This year Boomtown have stated that they will continue to test drugs on site. The company that they use to carry out the scheme are called The Loop.

The Loop is a not for profit Community Interest Company established in 2013 which provides drug safety testing, welfare and harm reduction services at nightclubs, festivals and other leisure events.


How does it work?

They use Infrared spectroscopy as their primary analysis method because it is fast, has a low cost-per-test and has excellent detection ability.


On their website, The Loop state that ‘Infrared spectroscopy works by shining different wavelengths of infrared light onto a solid sample which will partly absorb certain wavelengths according to its chemical structure. Because every drug has a unique chemical structure, the absorption behaviour is unique for every compound which allows us to plot a graph called an absorption spectrum.’

The Loop use a computer algorithm to compare this unique absorption spectrum to a huge database of substances measured by labs around the world to locate the closest match with extreme accuracy.


Statistics from Office for National Statistics

  • There were 3,744 drug poisoning deaths involving both legal and illegal drugs in England and Wales registered in 2016; this is 70 higher than 2015 (an increase of 2%) and the highest number since comparable statistics began in 1993.
  • Of these 3,744 deaths, 69% (2,593) were drug misuse deaths.


Statistics released by GOV.UK


What do charities think?

Policy and Communications Officer from Drug Awareness Charity Release, Avinash Tharoor, states that drug testing at festivals is an essential harm reduction service.

‘Drug testing at festivals is an essential harm reduction service. It saves lives and reduces the risks of drug taking by allowing people to have a better idea of what they are ingesting.’


‘Knowing what is in their batch allows someone to be better prepared when choosing the dose, or may even lead to someone disposing of the batch altogether.’


‘Knowledge is power; and knowledge of the contents of a bag of drugs helps people avoid unnecessary harms’

When asked what advice he would give to people, Avinash said ‘Do online research about the risks, and make sure you know how to avoid harms. Talk to experts and professionals, and get your drugs tested if possible. Most drugs carry increased risk if combined with alcohol.’

For some more detail on harm reduction, see Release’s harm reduction guides for MDMA and cocaine