‘Front of house’ drug safety testing will not take place at Parklife this weekend despite the festival’s organisers working closely with the Manchester-based charity who introduced the service elsewhere two years ago.
Since 2016, The Loop has provided ‘front of house’ Multi Agency Safety Testing (MAST), a free and confidential drug testing service whereby individuals can submit samples for analysis, to help reduce drug-related harm on site.
Speaking to MM about Parklife, The Loop’s founder Fiona Measham explained that the drugs charity’s sole purpose is to reduce harm for festival-goers.
She said: “It’s a big festival of 80,000 people, and it’s a festival which is predominately young people so we have to accept that, yes, there is a substantial amount of drinking and drug use.”
The charity has worked closely with Parklife for six years, conducting ‘back of house’ drug testing at the event since 2014, but testing samples directly for festival-goers requires council permission.
‘Back of house’ testing involves testing drugs that have been confiscated on site as well as helping first aiders by identifying substances that have caused medical problems at the festival.
According to Measham, the organisation tested up to 500 samples per day at Boomtown last year following the successful introduction of MAST at Kendal Calling and Secret Garden Party the previous year.
Speaking about the successful roll out of the service in the UK so far, she said: “We have queues for several hours of people coming to see us, in rain, midday sun and all sorts.”
Measham explained that this type of testing can legally take place as long as they have the approval from local authorities because samples are never given back and are destroyed immediately after testing.
She praised Greater Manchester Police for their support, saying that the charity couldn’t do their job without support from the police, but hoped that the council, who have remained neutral so far, would be more supportive.
David Regan, Director of Population Health, Manchester Health and Care Commissioning told MM: “In Manchester we are having discussions with key agencies about this particular model of drug safety testing taking place.
“We have been supportive with GMP and other partners for the work undertaken on ‘back of house’ testing at both Parklife and at Pride in recent years.”
The Loop was established in 2013 by criminology professor Fiona Measham to provide drug safety testing, welfare and harm reduction services at nightclubs and festivals.
This year the charity will have a team of nearly 100 people at Parklife, including 20 chemists working in their onsite lab, but the organisation will only be allowed to conduct ‘back of house’ testing.
Measham revealed that the festival, run by the team behind Warehouse Project, has always been ‘very supportive’ and that managing director John Drape, who is a patron of the charity, is ‘one of the best in the country’.
She said: “Five years ago we were a little fledgling charity in Manchester and now I see the headlines all over the national press.
“We’re the only testing organisation in the UK which does safety testing and it all started with the help and support of the Warehouse Project.”
Following two drug-related deaths at Portsmouth’s Mutiny Festival, the city council’s Conservative group leader said that she supports drug-testing tents claiming that if they had been in place at Mutiny, these deaths could have been prevented.
Cllr Donna Jones told Portsmouth News: “I do not think that Mutiny Festival should continue, but if it does, we need to have drugs-testing tents and stricter controls.”
Reflecting on the tragic deaths at the festival, which are believed to be associated with high potency ecstasy pills, Measham said that dehydration and overheating may have also been a factor during that hot weekend in Portsmouth.
With highs of 24°C expected this weekend, Measham said that she trusts Parklife organisers will take precautions to ensure that people are properly hydrated and advised festival-goers to take small amounts of any substance.
She said: “Start low, go slow, whatever it is. And also, make sure that [you’re] properly hydrated. That means not too much and not too little and bear in mind whether it is a hot day or not.”
*Image courtesty of The Parklife Weekender via YouTube, with thanks.