Drugs At Festivals: ‘The Zero-Tolerance Approach Doesn’t Work’

Member's of The Loop's lab team.
Sam de Neijs
– Member’s of The Loop’s lab team.
Testing samples using Fourier transform infrared (FTIR).

As part of a parliamentary hearing in the UK about the future of music festivals, the conversations temporarily turned to drug use at festivals and ways of dealing with it, to which Boomtown Fair’s communications & strategy director Anna Wade had a lot to say.

Boomtown Fair offers its visitors drug testing on site with the help of The Loop, a non-profit NGO dedicated to reducing the harm caused by drug use at music events and beyond.
Visitors can test their substances on site, to make sure they’re not taking anything dangerous. They are then sat down and educated in a non-judgmental way by experts making sense of the test results, after which they can leave the testing facility.
As Wade explained, mnany people decide to discard their substances, once they understand what’s in them and convinced that they might take harm, or at least refrain from mixing them with alcohol, which is often the catalyst making the use of drugs particularly dangerous.
Know what you're taking.
Sam de Neijs
– Know what you’re taking.
No drug fatalities have been reported at festivals, where The Loop had a presence.

Wade disagreed with the notion that drug testing on site would encourage drug use on site. She explained how the taboo around drugs led to people lacking the knowledge around substances and therefore not being able to use them responsibly.

“The zero-tolerance approach doesn’t work, it’s been a tried and tested method now for decades, and it doesn’t keep people safe,” she explained.
Wade continued, “What does keep people safe is education, awareness, support and non-judgmental conversation. Education is the key, and that’s what we do at Boomtown, and that’s what The Loop provides.
“Services like The Loop, a multi agency testing service, do keep people safe. We’ve seen it at every festival they’ve operated at in the U.K., there hasn’t been one fatality. 
“It really is on the cutting edge of changing social attitudes towards [drugs in general], but also the public health crisis that is illegal substances in this country and beyond.
“It is so critical to keep people safe, and young people educated.”
The fact that The Loop is present on site doesn’t mean that police turn a blind eye to people showing up with drugs. They’ll still do entrance checks and be on the lookout for dealers on site, but they won’t trap anyone entering The Loop’s testing facilities.
“The flipping of the psychology between it being a criminal issue to a public health issue is definitely a conversation that needs to be had,” Wade went on.
And she concluded, “We’re accepting reality and the dangers. We really need to change the narrative from it being a criminal villainization to understanding the victim side of the situation, and not demonize drug users, but actually support them to make sensible, well-informed decisions for they lives.”
The Loop team at Boomtown in 2019.
Sam de Neijs
– The Loop team at Boomtown in 2019.
in front of the purpose-built Loop point.