Last weekend's 'Gardeners Guide To The Galaxy' theme The Secret Garden Party has became the first outdoor UK festival to offer official drug testing for festivalgoers on site.
Around 200 gardeners used the testing facility, arranged by drug testing organisation The Loop who offered attendees ten minutes of health and safety advice, including on-the-spot drug testing, determining exactly what was in their drugs, and whether it is safe for consumption. The initiative was on offer in agreement with police and the local council over the weekend.
The Loop is a not-for-profit organisation, which traditionally conducts forensic testing of drugs seized by police, dropped in amnesty bins or handed to paramedics, and they tested around 80 substances at Secret Garden Party. Among the results, tests uncovered extra high-strength MDMA, as well as numerous examples of “misrepresented” substances, including anti-malaria tablets posing as ketamine, and ammonium sulphate instead of MDMA.
However they are not the first event in the UK to offer such a scheme. Back in 2013 the Warehouse Project offered a similar scheme after one person died and over a dozen more were hospitalised from taking drugs containing PMA (para-methoxyamphetamine), and since then there's been an ever increasing number of deaths in the UK linked to the drug.
In Wales they already have a drug testing service, WEDINOS which tests substances to give individual users and others rapid and accurate information to reduce harm. Anyone living in Wales is able to independently and anonymously submit a sample for testing. Users are given a reference number to then later check the results online. At Bestival last year EZTest kits were also available for festival goers to test their drugs, and eFestivals is aware of these kits being available at some festivals for the last couple of years. However Secret Garden Party is the first to officially roll out a drug testing programme to reduce the possibility of harm to it's attendees.
It's a sad reality that current drug laws in this country have contributed to the deaths of those who are often inexperienced and unaware of the dangers of what they are buying, to simply illegalise everything is not the answer and prohibition does not deter use. The best course of action is harm reduction as it is the best method to minimise risk to health, and Secret Garden Party should be applauded for offering testing to their attendees.
Festival founder Freddie Fellowes told The Guardian (here) that he was delighted to be able to offer drug testing at the festival, saying, "Harm reduction and welfare is a vital part of hosting any event and it’s an area that for too long has seen little development or advancement."
It's a definite move move in the right direction and we will hopefully see replicated at festivals, nightclubs and so on. There are similar testing facilities in Germany, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation who negotiated with local authorities to make it possible, told the Guardian, "Around a quarter of people who brought in their drugs then asked us to dispose of them when they discovered that they had been mis-sold or were duds. We were taking dangerous substances out of circulation."
He added: "We hope this groundbreaking service becomes the norm for all such events. It is now up to others to follow, to protect the health and safety of their customers. In truth it would be negligent for them not to.
"The police are increasingly pragmatic about drug-taking at festivals, and this is a case of them showing leadership and recognising that the priority should be health and wellbeing, not enforcement.... Until the laws are reformed, testing and encouraging safer drug use is the least we can do."
Since it's beginning in 2003, the Secret Garden Party has grown organically with an ethos of fun, friendliness, creativity and participation. Inspired by the original ethos of Glastonbury and Burning Man. The Secret Garden Party's, founder Head Gardener, aka Fred Fellowes, has succeeded in placing his own particular and idiosyncratic stamp on this event, making it quite unlike anywhere else in existence. His vision, commitment and enthusiasm continue to bring artistic communities together.
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