Drugs

Revellers can have drugs tested for free at UK festivals this summer

Image credit: Dreamstime

Several music events are expected to this year begin allowing festival-goers to submit pills and powders for testing with the support of local police forces.

Several UK music festivals are expected to this year begin allowing revellers to submit illegal drugs for testing with the support of local police forces.

The Royal Society for Public Health today called for all music festivals where drug use is common to offer such services so that festival-goers can find out the content and strength of any “substances of concern” which they have in their possession.

Steve Rolles, a senior policy analyst at the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation, told E&T there had been “very protracted discussions” with the police about the scheme.

“They are not endorsing it, but it’s a sort of non-endorsement endorsement if you like,” he said, adding that, in a pilot exercise, some pills in the possession of festival-goers were found to be comprised of ground up anti-malaria medication and concrete.

The move follows a rise in fatalities linked to drugs like ecstasy, largely caused by a corresponding increase in the average strength of ecstasy pills.

Commander Simon Bray, the national police lead on drugs, said: “There has been no proposed national roll out of drug testing at festivals. Any proposal would need to be considered at a local level by the police force, local authority and health services with a view on its legal, scientific and possible health implications.”

Not for profit organisation The Loop, which provides forensic drug testing services, is now expected to roll out the facility at eight music festivals this summer.

The development follows E&T’s revelations yesterday that new so-called receptor assay tests have been developed by the Home Office in a bid to increase convictions of alleged drug dealers charged under the new Psychoactive Substances Act when their cases go to trial later this year.

Other technological developments which supporters say could help the government make progress in the war against traditional “club drugs”, as well as the new psychoactive substances, include increasingly compact handheld raman spectoroscopy devices.

Looking like 1980s mobile phones, these are used by the border force and police to scan for the “chemical fingerprint” of white powders found in packages sent in from overseas, for example from China, by post.

They use infrared light, which can penetrate plastic “baggies” but will not work through cardboard packages as the light will be absorbed.

There is as yet no X-ray type test for drugs sent into the UK by post, despite efforts to develop one, meaning sniffer dogs, sometimes assisted by artificial intelligence, must do the initial detecting work.

The Ministry of Justice last year said it had trained hundreds of police dogs to sniff out new psychoactive substances.

German-made DrugWipe roadside testing devices are used widely by traffic police worldwide and allow fast detection even for slight traces of up to seven drug groups including methamphetamines and benzodiazepines based on a quick wipe of the tongue to collect saliva.

Roadside testing for new psychoactive substances is currently very limited.

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