British Festival Lets Attendees Test Drugs Without Fear Of Arrest

By McCarton Ackerman 07/28/16

Testing revealed that some substances sold as MDMA were actually ammonia sulphate, while some ketamine pills were anti-malaria drugs.

 British Festival Lets Attendees Test Drugs Without Fear Of Arrest

Drug users attending a UK festival last weekend had access to a groundbreaking new service that allowed them to test the purity of their substances without legal repercussions.

The Daily Mail reported that the Secret Garden party, an arts and music festival that ran from July 21-24 in the English village of Abbots Ripton, launched the initiative with public health authorities and Cambridgeshire police. Samples of more than 80 “substances of concern” were tested in the first day and a half, and one-fourth of them were disposed of after the attendees decided not to take them. While concertgoers couldn’t get back the sample they submitted for testing, authorities didn’t confiscate the rest of their drugs.

The testing revealed that some of the substances being sold as MDMA were actually ammonium sulphate (commonly used as soil fertilizer), while some ketamine pills were actually anti-malaria drugs.

“For many young people 'just say no' simply doesn't work, so 'just say know' is vital to help protect them,” Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, told the Daily Mail. “All drug use involves risks, but these are magnified by criminalization, which gifts the market to criminals and unregulated dealers. Until the laws are reformed, testing and encouraging safer drug use is the least we can do." 

Professor Fiona Measham, co-founder and director of The Loop organization, which provided the testing, said the service was offered “as part of a tailored advice and information package provided by a team of experienced drugs workers. This can help people make informed choices, raising awareness of particularly dangerous substances in circulation and reducing the chance of drug-related problems occurring.”

Drug testing is especially important as a wave of new designer drugs continue to infiltrate the market. A 2013 report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction showed that 73 new drugs entered the marketplace in 2012 alone. Roel Kerssemakers, a health education officer at the Dutch drug-checking service Jellinek, said the testing provides the ability to identify dangerous pills much earlier and "send a red alert out to the community much more quickly."

Other music venues have also offered similar services in recent years. In the summer of 2013, a major electronic dance party in the Colombian capital of Bogotá put a drug testing lab on-site so that attendees could get an instant analysis of the substances they were about to consume.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.