The health chief seeking to introduce Ireland’s first drug testing service at festivals said they need Garda HQ and the Department of Justice to “give it the okay”.
HSE addiction lead, consultant psychiatrist Eamon Keenan, said Gardaí might approach drug testing as a “preservation of life” initiative in order to support it.
Dr Keenan said the Department of Justice “did appear to be looking at innovative ways” to respond to the issue in its dealings with a HSE working group tasked with examining drug testing.
The report of that group recommended that the Government establish a limited pilot drug-checking project, in which samples anonymously dropped into an amnesty bin at festivals would be tested by experts to examine their contents and purities.
The working group was set up on the back of severe reactions, including deaths, at music festivals in Britain during 2018 and 2019.
The group stopped short of recommending a more comprehensive drug-checking system, known as ‘front of house’, where users can safely hand over drugs to technicians at events and wait for results.
The group cited legal obstacles for such a system, but said if a ‘back of house’ system was successful then a ‘front of house’ model should be considered.
“Testing is another harm reduction tool,” said Dr Keenan, who chaired the group. “It has been used in Europe and we know it works.
“I think there’s an appetite with gardaí on the ground – as in garda divisions dealing with the big festivals. We really need Garda head office and the Department of Justice to give the okay.”
He said the timing was now right given the reopening of the night-time economy in Ireland and worrying reports of adverse reactions from festivals in Britain.
Garda HQ told the Irish Examiner: “An Garda Síochána will examine and afford appropriate consideration to all recommendations within the report and will participate in any discussion regarding the report.”
The Department of Justice said: "The legislation and policy in question are matters for the Department of Health. The Department of Justice will consider any recommendations which may be brought by the Department of Health to the appropriate interdepartmental committee for further consideration as the next step."
Launching the report, drugs strategy minister Frank Feighan said its recommendations strengthen a harm reduction response and he welcomes one requiring festivals to provide drug information.
On a related matter, Dr Keenan said he is “disappointed” that a Department of Tourism and Culture report on reopening the night-time economy, published earlier this week, does not mention the “harms associated with alcohol and made no mention of drugs”.