May 30, 2024 2 min read

Government confirms it has issued drug-testing licences to “some of the leading festivals in the UK”

Drug testing at festivals will be more widely available again this summer, as the UK government issues more licences. Services to check illegal substances were reduced last year, after the Home Office insisted licences were required - something festival organisers said had never been the case before

Government confirms it has issued drug-testing licences to “some of the leading festivals in the UK”

Drug testing will be more widely available at UK festivals this summer, as more events have been able to secure licences that allow on-site experts to examine illegal substances. Such efforts were drastically reduced last year, with campaigners saying that the government had changed its policies with too little time for many events to get the required paperwork.

“It is important that we are able to proceed this year with drug testing”, says Katy Porter, CEO of drug-related harm prevention charity The Loop. “The drug market is changing, and we are able to plan and prepare in our harm reduction messaging and response when we are informed regarding the drugs which are in circulation, and equipped with accurate and current information”.

“Licensed by the Home Office and in line with government policy, The Loop’s aim of reducing the consumption of adulterants and contaminated drugs, and reducing the risk of poisoning and overdose, has been welcomed by the two festivals The Loop will be working with”, she adds.

Issues around drug testing were highlighted last year by the Parklife festival in Manchester, which had worked with The Loop for a number of years. This, it said, had always been carried out under a memorandum of understanding with local police. However, last year the UK’s Home Office said that a licence was required, and that this had always been the case. 

It can take up to three months for a licence to be approved, which left Parklife and other festivals without enough time to secure one. The application also increases costs, which could mean some events would be unable to afford to offer the service. Critics called the government’s position “short-sighted”.

The on-site drug testing puts experts on hand at festivals to assess whether there are any substances in circulation that could pose a heightened risk to those consuming them. In some cases, the drugs are provided for testing by festival-goers, sometimes anonymously, or – more commonly at UK festivals – the experts analyse drugs that have been confiscated by police and security.

Either way, any information about substances that could pose a heightened risk is pushed out through social media, and provided to police and on-site medical personnel. That work can prevent harm and save lives by ensuring any heightened risk is known.

In a statement, Parklife’s Jon Drape says, “On-site drug testing is a cornerstone of our harm reduction strategy and we are delighted to have The Loop on-site with us this year”.

Meanwhile, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association Michael Kill comments, “These facilities play a vital role in safeguarding attendees and proactively informing them of potential harms”.

Insisting that it is a “continuation of long-standing government policy”, the Home Office says in a statement that “licences have been issued under strict conditions to drug testing organisations to operate at some of the leading festivals in the UK”.

It adds that “more licences are expected to be issued in the coming weeks”.

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