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Secret Garden Party Is The First Festival Of Its Kind To Offer Free Pill Testing In The UK

Written by Michael Carr on July 25, 2016

Independent UK festival Secret Garden Party has become the first UK festival to offer punters the chance to test their illegal drugs to establish their make-up before taking them The Guardian reports.

Working with The Loop – an organisation that tests drugs at festivals and nightclubs and offers associated welfare support – and the local Cambridgeshire police force, the program was, by all reports, a massive success. The tests were offered as part of a 10-minute package of health and safety advice provided by The Loop, and found that almost a quarter of drugs tested were either not what they were sold as or not drugs at all, with some even containing harmful chemicals.

“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,” said Steve Rolles, the senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation which was a key force in selling the testing facility to local authorities.

Fiona Measham, co-founder of The Loop described the testing facility as “a big step forward” for festivals and drug policy in general. “For the first time we’ve been able to offer the testing service to individual users as part of a tailored advice and information package provided by a team of experienced drugs workers,” she said.

“This can help people make informed choices, raising awareness of particularly dangerous substances in circulation and reducing the chance of drug-related problems occurring.”

The festival was expected to attract around 30,000 people to the Georgian farming estate near Huntingdonover where it was held over the weekend, and about 200 festival goers made use of the testing facility. Testing over 80 substances of concern, the facility turned up numerous results including very high strength ecstasy pills as well as a number of samples where the contents weren’t what they were sold as.

One unlucky punter was sold anti-malaria pills as ketamine, while another narrowly avoided disaster when the facility showed she had been sold ammonium suplhate – a common ingredient in fertilizer – as MDMA.

Festival founder Freddie Fellowes said he was “thrilled” to be able to pioneer the service. “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,” he said, this year’s event marking it’s twelfth year.

Citing the key result of the initiative as the removal of potentially toxic substances from circulation, Rolles is currently in discussion with two other festivals to provide a similar service. Emphasising that the program’s success rested on the partnership between Cambridgeshire police, local public health authorities and the festival organisers – relationships that have been  several years in the making – he had nothing but praise for law enforcement’s evolving view of the issue.

“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.”

However he urged lawmakers and other police departments around the country to take note of the success of the initiative and adopt harm reduction over hard-line enforcement.

“Until the laws are reformed, testing and encouraging safer drug use is the least we can do. 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 news comes after Victorian Police warned organisers of proposed pill testing services at upcoming Australian music events will risk being arrested if they carry through with the trial. NSW premiere Mike Baird has too previously voiced his opposition to pill testing methods, despite a legion of other politicians and health experts calling for pill testing and an overhaul of Australian drug laws.

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