Drug Testing and Alert System Introduced in Ireland Ahead of Summer Music Festivals

Ireland drug testing
  • Save

Ireland drug testing
  • Save
Photo Credit: Samuel Regan-Asante

Ireland’s Health Service Executive announced details of a drug testing and alert initiative at music festivals nationwide.

Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) announced the launch of its drug harm-reduction campaign aimed at music festival attendees across the country. This initiative continues the work of the pilot project launched last summer and sees the HSE partnering with a small number of festivals this year to put in place “Safer Nightlife” harm reduction programs.

The campaign consists of multiple components, including a drug monitoring program where festivalgoers can anonymously submit drugs to experts through voluntary “surrender bins,” real-time social media alerts, media awareness, and a social media campaign.

“I am delighted to see the HSE Safer Nightlife Programme progress and expand into its second year. It is an excellent example of reducing the harms of drug use through interagency work and engaging closely with people who may be considering using drugs,” says Hildegarde Naughton, Minister for Public Health, Wellbeing, and the National Drugs Strategy. 

“The program was incredibly successful in 2022 and allowed us to highlight particularly dangerous substances encountered in festival settings while also creating greater awareness for people who use drugs as part of the nighttime economy.”

“The Programme for Government contains the commitment to increase drug monitoring at festivals, and harm reduction interventions, such as the Safer Nightlife Programme, can save people’s lives,” Naughton continues. “I will continue to work alongside colleagues in the HSE to see this invaluable initiative rolled out even further in the months and years ahead.”

“This approach will improve our drug monitoring capabilities and help to tailor our harm-reduction services in Ireland,” adds Professor Eamon Keenan, National Clinical Lead for Addiction Services at HSE. “We can access drugs in a safe, non-judgemental manner to quickly gain insight on what drugs may be in circulation and issue real-time drug alerts about substances of concern to festival attendees via our social media channels.”

“As shown at the first phase conducted at Electric Picnic last summer, this approach has the potential to identify trends otherwise unknown,” says Keenan. “The HSE found trends of concern including high-potency drugs, twelve new psychoactive substances, and four drugs which had never been identified before in Ireland.”

“As well as high-strength drugs appearing, as seen recently in the UK, we are currently concerned about the possibility of new psychoactive substances being mis-sold as MDMA pills or crystal, cocaine, and cannabis,” he continues. “New drugs are continuing to emerge, and we must be aware of the risks they pose, in particular the risks of overdose and mental health problems.”

“While the HSE recognizes that it is safer not to use drugs at all and there is always risk, the campaign has been developed in response to a changing drug landscape in Ireland and aims to offer people who use drugs practical harm-reduction information on how they can reduce health harms if they choose to use,” he concludes.

While law enforcement would, on the record, prefer no illegal drugs to be in circulation at festivals, some must recognize the sensibility of a pragmatic approach focused on harm reduction in nightlife spaces where drug use is often high. The HSE and individuals running such initiatives need to collaborate with police to ensure festivalgoers who provide drugs for testing do not face legal consequences.

The HSE’s initiative provides practical advice for people who do take drugs at festivals, like letting your friends know if you decide to take drugs, “start low and go slow,” avoid mixing drugs — including alcohol and prescription medications — and be honest with medics as to what you have taken should you become physically or mentally unwell.