Drugs and music festivals

A few weeks ago 5 people died at Time Warp Music Festival in Buenos Aires, Argentina. According to The Guardian the 5 died as a result of a “suspected drug overdose”. Time Warp is an EDM festival. ‘Well, there you have it!’ would some people argue. EDM and drugs...

Drugs at festivals

I’m not going tell you whether you should consume drugs or not. I like a beer or a glass of wine every now and then. Others prefer to use something else, each to their own. Occasionally though tragic events, like the deaths in Argentina, hit the news. By now I assume we all know that some festivalgoers use drugs, from xtc to alcohol and anything in between. So, what should be done to make festivals safer?

If festivalgoers want to consume drugs, they will find a way. Every weekend my 16-year-old niece is hanging out with her friends. Legally she is not allowed to drink yet so they avoid going to bars or clubs. Yet, miraculously she has woken up already a few times with a hangover. She knows how to get alcohol. Let’s face it, so did you when you were 16. People who want to take drugs at festivals know how to get them onto the festival site.

Going hard, going Dutch

Warning signs in Amsterdam

Warning signs in Amsterdam

My niece is Dutch. In 1995 an article from The Independent stated that Dutch ravers could mellow out as official test kits make xtc safe. This test kit was used at festivals and visitors could test their pills there and then. In 2002 I got involved in the licensing process of one of the biggest dance festivals in the Netherlands.

In 2001 the test kit was used at the festival but the following year police and health services raised concerns. That year the Dutch government decided that test kits were no longer allowed. The then government was afraid it would send out the wrong message: that it was legal to consume drugs. Some drugs are simply condoned, not legal. Welcome to Holland!

The pros and cons

So what are the pros and cons of testing kits? A Belgian report from 2007 looked into this. According to the report the benefits of self-testing kits are:

  • You are informing your visitors
  • Catch out the bad stuff
  • Sending out harm reduction message
  • A ‘faulty’ pill will struggle to sell on the market as people can be warned

However, the problems with pill testing kits, according to this report, are that these kits are not 100% reliable. It also takes time to test pills properly. And time is not something you have when you’re at a festival.

The big question

In 2002, as we sat around a massive table discussing the licensing issues of a large outdoor dance event, someone asked the following questions:

What if we allow testing kits at the festival and a visitor has given us his pill to be tested. The test comes back and says it is okay for consumption. Turns out that the test didn’t work properly. What happens if that person dies as a result of taking that pill? Who is than responsible? Can someone be held responsible? Is it the event organizer? Is the festivalgoer? Is it the person testing? Is the licensor? Who if anyone?

No one knew the answer. We are now 14 years later. These questions are still on the table. In Holland the discussion of implementing test-kits is on the political agenda again. In America they have the same discussion. It’s not an easy subject and, as far as I can see, there is no easy answer either. Meanwhile I wonder whether I should have another beer.

Visit my website for more information about safety at events and festivals.