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secret garden party
via Facebook, photography Samantha Milligan

British festival becomes first to offer public drug testing

Secret Garden Party analysed over 80 substances to encourage safe drug use

Secret Garden Party offered festivalgoers the opportunity to test their illegal drugs before taking them at the weekend, making it the first event of its kind in the UK to offer such a service.

Collaborating with drug safety charity The Loop alongside local police and the council, punters were able to make use of a service that encourages safe drug use, as they’re able to tell exactly what they’ve bought, and what they’re going to ingest.

Across the weekend in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, 80 substances of concern including high-strength pills, anti-malaria tablets sold as ketamine and ammonium sulphate sold as MDMA were tested. At a festival which attracts around 30,000 people, over 200 people used to service across the first day and a half.

Freddie Fellowes, who founded the festival 12 years ago, told the Guardian that he was “thrilled” about the action. “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.

Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, worked to negotiate the action on-site. He explained that their main goal was to eradicate potentially dangerous drugs and harmful incidents onsite.

“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,” he explained to the Guardian.

Though festivals in Germany and the Netherlands consistently use this kind of action to oversee safe drug use, it’s the first of its kind in the UK. However, the Warehouse Project in Manchester introduced a pioneering drugs testing initiative back in 2013 after drug-related deaths onsite. Two other festivals in the UK this year may use similar services alongside local authorities, according to Rolles.

He continued: “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.”