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Women whose children died at festivals after taking drugs have urged the UK government to support “life-saving” substance-checking services after an influential parliamentary committee warned it was concerned there would be a surge in youth drug deaths this summer without action.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee last month called on the home secretary to introduce widespread drug-checking services after it reviewed the evidence and heard “compelling” arguments that it saved lives.
Janine Milburn, the mother of Georgia Jones, who died aged 18 at the Mutiny festival in Hampshire in 2018 after taking dangerously high-strength MDMA, said she believed her daughter might still be alive if there had been drug-checking services.
“I honestly believe that if Georgia had been able to test her substance and given some advice on how to remain safe, she might have come home alive that day,” she told the Guardian. “I think if people are given truthful drug education – with testing encouraged and facilitated not just at festivals – then drug-related deaths would be significantly lower.
“People need to start doing what is right rather than fearing the stigma around drugs and stopping services like the Loop from saving lives.”
The DCMS committee noted that since 2016 “there have been no drug-related deaths at any festival [with drug checking]”. It also said that an evaluation of the drug-checking service, delivered by charity the Loop at a limited number of UK festivals, published last month in the International Journal of Drug Policy, reported that over half of those whose sample was other than expected threw it away, and over a quarter did not purchase drugs from strangers months after. Another paper presents evidence suggesting reduced hospital admissions when the service is deployed.
Wendy Teasdill’s daughter Ellie Rowe died aged 18 at Boomtown in 2013 after taking particularly pure ketamine which in combination with alcohol killed her, according to an inquest. Boomtown has not experienced any drug deaths since introducing drug checking in 2017.
“Had the Loop been at Boomtown when Ellie was there she would have taken the opportunity to have her drugs tested,” she said. “She would also have been advised not to take alcohol with it.
“She did not deserve to die. She was a vibrant, intelligent young person with a wonderful life ahead of her. We, her family, miss her every moment of our lives. Why are we sacrificing our young people; why can’t we follow the example of countries in Europe and slay the dragon of ignorance?”
The DCMS report noted that the government in 2018 said it would not “stand in the way” of drug checking but the committee said there was confusion in some parts of the country over the legality of the schemes – which can only operate with the blessing of local police forces and councils, as well as festival organisers.
“For example, We are FSTVL in Essex told us that it has tried on several occasions to introduce Multi Agency Safety Testing (MAST) testing … but each attempt has been denied by the Metropolitan police,” the report said.
At least 14 younger people have died after taking drugs at festivals in England since 2017, with some experts believing the true total to be significantly higher.
The DCMS committee warned: “We are highly concerned that a compressed festival season, the likely circulation of high-strength, adulterated drugs and increased risk-taking after lockdown will lead to a spike in drug-related deaths at festivals this summer. We heard compelling arguments that drug checking saves lives, but in many cases service providers and police forces are being constrained by a lack of clarity in the legal framework and the need for a stronger evidence base.”
It recommended: “The government should introduce a dedicated licensing scheme for drug checking to set a clear legal framework and minimum standards that service providers must meet.”
Prof Fiona Measham, the chair in criminology at Liverpool University and director of the Loop, said she hoped the government would give the DCMS recommendation “urgent consideration if they share the committee’s concern with reducing risk for young people and the rising toll of avoidable drug-related deaths”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities. Any policing arrangements around festivals are an operational matter for chief constables.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: MPs call for drug safety testing amid fears of rise in summer festival deaths | Drugs policy