5 areas around drug use that event planners need to address

Three people died at HARD music festival in Los Angeles. The assumption is that these are drug-related deaths. Earlier this week the news came that Fabric, the nightclub in London, has closed its doors for the foreseeable future after two drug-related deaths there.

In 2015 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published a report in which they detailed deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales. The report shows that 50 people died after using MDMA/Ecstasy in 2014. MDMA is one of the drugs commonly used in nightlife and at festivals. One of the main risks of drug use is that what is sold may or may not contain what the buyer think it is. 

Despite security efforts, event organisers know that some audience members choose to use drugs. So what can they do to make sure those choices don't lead to bad experiences, hospitalisations or deaths? A few years ago I met up with Stefanie Jones from the Drugs Policy Alliance (DPA). The DPA is an American non-profit advocacy organisation that works to change drug laws so that they reflect health values rather than a criminal justice approach. Stefanie runs the DPA's Music Fan program and it's #SaferPartying campaign. You can follow her on Twitter.

The DPA’s mission is to “advance those policies and attitudes that best reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition, and to promote the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies” (DPA website). In this blog I’m using some of her answers to look at what event organisers can do.

The responsibilities of an event planner

“One of the first things event planners need to do is to acknowledge that certain drugs might be used at their event. There are laws that prohibit certain drugs and you will follow certain standards and procedures with regards to these drugs laws. But… acknowledging that some of these drugs inevitably come onto your event site and will be used is the first step”.

Drugs on site: what should event planners do?

If you are under the assumption that drugs might be consumed on your event site you need to speak to your permit or license officer, local authorities, and your insurance company. You want to make sure everyone is on the same page.

You should be working together to reduce the risk of harm to event attendees. This is where harm reduction comes into play. According to Stefanie there are a few things that events should have in place. Some of them are:

Education on site: Event organisers need to educate attendees as well. “People are terribly uninformed about drugs”, Stefanie says. In America you have organisations such as DanceSafe.org that help inform and educate people about health and safety within the nightlife and electronic music community. In the UK there is The Loop, more or less the British equivalent of DanceSafe. These organisations can provide information to event organisers and, more importantly, the public.

Chill out space: a quiet space near the medical facilities (preferably) for when it all becomes a bit too much for some attendees. Make sure it actually is a quiet and calming space.

Mental health space: The Guardian wrote a fantastic article about it here.

Free water: Make sure you have plenty of free water points throughout your event site.

For harm reduction to be more effective you need to know your audience. Age and gender for example. Also look at your event location. Is it indoor or outdoor and what are the possible risks at your location.

Harm reduction in your Event Management Plan

You need to address harm reduction measures in your Event Management Plan. According to Stefanie there are 5 areas around drug use that you need address:

  Signs outside the festival area of Brighton Pride 2016

Signs outside the festival area of Brighton Pride 2016

Security & enforcement. You need to have a policy about illegal drugs being brought on site. Ideally you do not want to arrest people but you can confiscate drugs.

Medical team. Medical staff should be well informed about all drugs on the scene and the effects of them.

Education. Inform and educate your staff and, more importantly, your audience.

Safe spaces. Offer people the opportunity to relax in a safe setting. These spaces are not for medical emergencies but you can think of chill out spaces. You might want to include counsellors in these spaces as well.

Safe settings. As an event organiser you need to think how large crowds and a boiling hot venue might affect someone using drugs. In your planning you need to make sure your event is a safe event for everyone.

Event organisers should always take harm reduction seriously when planning their events. For more information about harm reduction at events please visit any of the websites mentioned in this blog.

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