Drugs and festivals have always gone hand in hand, but the truth of this fact is proving a difficult pill for Britain to swallow.
The peace and love festivals of the 60s bought psychedelic drugs such as LSD and mushrooms into the mainstream, and whilst times have changed the culture of using recreational drugs to enhance the festival experience certainly hasn’t.
Tragic Georgia Jones, 18, died after taking a “bad batch” of ecstasy pills at the Mutiny Festival in Portsmouth on Saturday. Another 20-year-old father of one also died, with another reported 15 festivalgoers rushed to hospital.
The second day of the two-day festival was cancelled by organisers, out of respect for those who lost their lives and through fear that this strong strain of “silver Audi” ecstasy pill could leave more casualties in its wake.
Georgia’s mother, Janine Milburn, has made a public plea on social media for young people not to take drugs at music festivals.
Sadly, whilst what happened to Georgia was so tragic and preventable, I’m afraid public outrage and cries for drug prevention will fall on deaf ears.
Every time a young person falls victim to a drug overdose at a music festival or nightclub, we seem to have the same conversation about how to stop drugs circulating their way through such scenes. Last year, a 25-year-old was found dead at Bestival after a suspected drug overdose and London nightclub Fabric was forced to close its doors temporarily after two 18-year-olds died after taking illegal substances on the premises.
As a result, many nightclubs and festivals have clamped down on drugs with a strict zero-tolerance policy, which has done little to deter people from taking illicit substances. Zero-tolerance policies not only unfairly profile and criminalise certain individuals through prejudiced stop and search mechanisms, but I think more importantly they escalate the problem by erasing the conversation about drugs altogether.
Instead of having an open and frank discussion about the dangers involved in drug taking, institutions are quick to condemn their customers despite being acutely aware of the drug culture that acts as the driving force behind their industry. For many of them, a drug death is just another public relations disaster and after preaching a stricter zero-tolerance policy they continue to operate as normal with a drug scene still operating underground.
The only sensible solution to tackling the drug problem at Britain’s festivals is to introduce reliable drug testing facilities on site. The Loop is a great example of a not-for-profit company providing forensic drug testing at nightclubs and festivals. Their vital services have previously proved successful at festivals such as Boomtown. The Loop tested 1,132 samples onsite and as a result there were no drug related deaths.
The correlation between education and safety is undeniable here, and the private companies running Britain’s festivals and clubs need to wake up and realise that the real problem isn’t drug culture itself, but the way they police it.
I’ve read some shocking stories of young people at clubs and festivals taking double dosages of ecstasy pills not being aware of their potency or taking cheap, fake ecstasy pills cut with substances much more toxic than MDMA. The heart-breaking realisation is that if only there had been readily available facilities to educate them on how to take their drugs safely, if at all, they might still be here today.
As the festival season kicks off in these premature summer months, my fear is that if festival organisers don’t act quickly, we’re going to be hearing similar stories of young lives wasted in just a few months’ time.