HSE Safer Nightlife Programme 2022
We recently launched a ‘back of house’ pilot project as part of our 2022 ‘Safer Nightlife Programme’ to identity drug trends in nightlife spaces
On the 18th of August, the HSE in partnership with the Department of Health and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media launched plans for the first drug monitoring programme to analyse drugs to provide real time information at a festival setting. This is part of overall efforts to improve emerging drug trend responses and to reduce drug-related harm in Ireland.
In September 2021, we launched the Report of the Emerging Drug Trends and Drug Checking Working Group which included a series of recommendations such as providing harm reduction and drug monitoring in festival settings, initially through what is known as a ‘back of house’ approach. The report concluded that analysis can have benefits to help communicate risk with people who use drugs.
The pilot drug monitoring project is part of our ‘Safer Nightlife Programme’ which is a multicomponent approach led by the HSE which involves recruiting and training outreach harm reduction volunteers, a social media campaign, the development of resources for events and partnership with festivals.
We have already collaborated with Life Festival and Indie Festival this year to incorporate harm reduction support at these events, but without the provision of drug analysis and monitoring.
The drug monitoring pilot will be available at Electric Picnic which is the final festival that we will work at this summer. However, we will explore other nightlife events which we can conduct monitoring at moving forward.The drug monitoring initiative is supported by the Department of Justice and An Garda Síochána. However, it does not grant amnesty from arrest or prosecution for those found in possession of controlled drugs at events and normal legislation and Garda enforcement plans apply.
What is a ‘back of house’ approach?
‘Back of House’ drug checking is where analysis is undertaken on drug samples that are obtained through a number of different mechanisms, but does not include accessing substances and returning the samples to directly to people who use drugs. This approach is used for market monitoring and for communicating messages indirectly with people who use drug.
How samples are accessed include:
- Samples obtained from law enforcement
- Samples provided to medics
- Sampled discarded in surrender bins by people who want to help inform drug alert systems, by those concerned about certain batches in circulation or those who choose not to use the substance
Why was this approach selected?
This approach was selected by the Emerging Drug Trends and Drug Checking Working Group as it would require less detailed policy amendments and could allow the quick delivery of a pilot service to gain valuable drug market insight. This approach as part of a HSE tent could ensure an anonymous and secure drop off point while health care professionals are also available to offer information and support.
Although the results of this approach are not delivered directly to the person using, samples obtained from a ‘back of house’ pilot could be used to gain valuable insight into the most recent contents at that point in time which would be otherwise unknown, this will contribute to the development of appropriate harm reduction communications and interventions which we currently can’t provide.
Where is a ‘back of house’ approach applied?
This approach has been implemented in many locations, mainly in collaboration with law enforcement.
More recently, The Loop UK have operated a back of house testing services at festivals this summer. This involves obtaining substances onsite through different avenues including the use of surrender bins. When substances of concern are identified, The Loop will issue information on social media and through their team member’s available onsite. Through this approach, the Loop has warned the public about a number of different substances presenting. They recently identified the emergence of synthetic cathinones in MDMA products through this approach.
Will people submit drugs to surrender bins?
In 2019 we conducted research with Trinity College Dublin to gain insight on drug trends in festivals settings and harm reduction practices.
Of the survey respondents (1,193), 96% said that they would use a front of house service at a festival and 70% stated that they would use a drug checking service in their community (so not in a festival setting). In relation to the use of a surrender bin, 77% of respondents reported that they would submit substances to a bin if the results would be used to inform a public health alert system (Ivers, Killeen & Keenan, 2021).
How will the first pilot operate in Ireland?
The first pilot will be at Electric Picnic on the 2nd – 4th of September. The HSE will have a harm reduction tent, outreach teams onsite and a laboratory to conduct analysis.
Substances will be obtained onsite through different avenues including a surrender bin located in the HSE tent in the main arena. People can attend to discuss substance use and harm reduction and can willingly dispose of substances they have concerns about or substances that they do not wish to take. This surrender bin is for the purpose of public health monitoring to identify extra threats to health. What this means is, results will be communicated if there is concern or if an alert is issued only. Those who submit drugs are doing so to inform drug monitoring and alert systems for the wider community. Analysis will also be conducted on substances of concern obtained by the medic’s onsite.
The bins will be accessed at different intervals by the onsite lab and analysis will be conducted through the application of FT-IR technology. If substances of concern are identified as soon as possible, this will be communicated at the event and through our social media channels @drugsdotie.
When will alerts be issued?
Alerts will be issued when the HSE review:
- If high risk drugs are identified such as risky contaminants or if potency is considered high
- If a number of different drugs are identified in one product
- If novel compounds are present