Drug-related deaths are rising, in the UK and in Bristol, even though drug use is not increasing. Free drug testing at music festivals and nightclubs has already been proven to reduce harm – but some local authorities and police forces are still uncertain whether it is legal, preventing music events from including these life-saving initiatives.
Today I brought an adjournment debate to the House of Commons to get more clarity on this. I am very pleased that Home Office Minister Nick Hurd said that the Government “would not stand in the way” of these schemes. He also said he would be checking whether police forces were correctly informed.
This clarity is long overdue. According to the Office of National Statistics, death certificates mentioning Ecstasy/MDMA have increased steadily over recent years, from 8 in 2010 to 63 in 2016. Death certificates mentioning cocaine and heroin/morphine have also risen dramatically over the same period.
We should remember that all drugs have dangers – including one of the deadliest and completely legal, alcohol. People still use them, regardless of whether they are legal or illegal.
One of the most progressive systems of drug safety testing is the MAST model developed by The LOOP drug safety testing organisation. Skilled scientists take samples, test the content quickly and destroy it, giving the person concerned clear information about what it is, how strong it is and how to reduce risk of harm.
Users of the service cannot get that sample back. They get accurate safety information and they often hand in more dangerous substances, taking them out of circulation.
This system was a huge success at Love Saves The Day, a festival in Bristol this summer. Sadly, police forces and local authorities in other areas have blocked these schemes because of legal questions – but following the debate today, I am hopeful that this may change.
Giving everyone clear information about the substances they intend to consume helps reduce risk and prevent harm – we can do it for alcohol and we can do it for other drugs within the current legal frameworks.
Clarity from the Government is a win, but we can go even further. Let’s make it a requirement that festivals and, if possible, nightclubs, have to ensure there is drug safety testing available for every event they run.
I will be holding the Minister to this commitment. Let’s save more lives and protect more people from harm.
See the whole debate here.