Drug-testing at festivals saves lives. Why does the UK Home Office want to end it?

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Drug-testing at festivals saves lives. Why does the UK Home Office want to end it?

31 July 2023
The Guardian
Daisy Jones

In August 2019, at 3.42am on a Saturday morning at Leeds festival, 17-year-old Anya Buckley, from Oldham, collapsed and died from heart failure after taking MDMA, ketamine and cocaine. Later a pathologist concluded that Anya’s death was caused by mixed drug toxicity, with the court hearing that the ecstasy was particularly strong. “We are tormented by the fact that Anya’s death was avoidable,” her aunt, Anna Short, told the Guardian at the time. “If people are made clearly aware that drugs which are toxic are in circulation, then it can help them make more informed choices.”

Anya could have been many of us – it’s pretty normal for people to take party drugs with their mates at music festivals. Her death certainly doesn’t exist in a bubble. Between 2017 and 2021, there were at least 14 reported deaths among young people from drug use at festivals in England. In 2018, one such person was Georgia Jones, who died aged 18 at Mutiny festival in Hampshire after taking dangerously high-strength MDMA. “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,” her mother said after her death.

It’s very clear that onsite drug testing can keep people safe: evidence suggests that festivals see a 10% to 25% reduction in drug-related harm when the volunteer-run drug testing facility The Loop operates onsite. Incredibly, however, use of such facilities appears to be in jeopardy. The Home Office told organisers of Parklife festival in Manchester that, for the first time since 2014, they would not be able to check for dangerous drugs onsite without a special licence.