HSE launches pilot drug monitoring programme for festivals and nightlife settings
The HSE in partnership with the Department of Health and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has 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.
The pilot programme will initially take place at Electric Picnic and will be implemented as part of the HSE ‘Safer Nightlife’ harm reduction campaign which was launched earlier this year. This pilot is being introduced so the HSE can gain knowledge on current drug market trends so they can improve harm reduction responses specific to nightlife settings. The HSE aims to obtain substances by those engaged with their team at a designated tent and who choose to anonymously submit substances to a ‘surrender bin’ so the HSE can identify and communicate if extra dangerous substances are in circulation. The HSE will also be in a position to analyse substances of concern identified by medics.
Professor Eamon Keenan, HSE National Clinical Lead, Addiction Services said, “I am pleased to launch this new project as part of our efforts 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.
“We are currently very concerned about the emergence of new psychoactive substances and high potency substances which pose a threat to health. This project will provide us with vital information that we otherwise can’t access in real time. While this is a progression, the HSE messaging will remain clear, it is safer not to use drugs at all. For those who choose to, they should still follow the practical steps recommended by the HSE to reduce the harms.”
Professor Keenan continued: “We will issue a series of health information on social media before and during the event, I encourage the public to follow drugs.ie and engage with our teams at Electric Picnic. It is important to note that our results will only be representative of what is submitted and this will not guarantee the safety of drugs across the drug market.”
A laboratory will be established onsite and if a substance of concern is identified, the HSE will issue information to the public in attendance of the event with an aim to reduce the consumption of these substances and possible acute emergencies.
This approach is supported by the National Drug Strategy, The European Drug Strategy and is within the current Programme for Government and HSE National Service Plan.
Minister Frank Feighan, Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Well Being and National Drugs Strategy said, “While it is always safer not to use drugs, we have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of the people who may use drugs at festivals and in the night time economy. It is my priority as Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy to strengthen harm reduction responses to high-risk drug use associated with the night-time economy and festivals. Drug monitoring is an important tool in this regard. I want to acknowledge the cooperation of all stakeholders in putting this initiative in place.”
Through this new approach, the HSE will also be in a position to support medics through the analysis of substances identified in medical emergencies at events. For this pilot scheme the HSE will have harm reduction teams in the Electric Picnic at a designated tent and on outreach through campsites to talk to attendees.
Melvin Benn, Managing Director of Festival Republic said, “Essentially this is Electric Picnic being a good citizen. The law remains that drugs are illegal and that will remain so at Electric Picnic. But we are committed to doing everything we can to make people safe and this process adds to that safety in the knowledge that drugs exist in all aspects of society and we welcome the HSE’s proactiveness in addressing the issue.”
Minister Catherine Martin, Green Party Deputy Leader and Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media said, “There is huge excitement and joy at seeing our live performances and festivals returning. As we work towards building a more sustainable Night-Time Economy, it is also important that we do so with the safety of participants in mind. We all want a thriving and vibrant Night-Time Economy and one that supports the public’s health. This pilot initiative is a progressive step in supporting safer settings in our night-life. My Department will continue to work in partnership with the HSE and my colleague Minister Feighan in the Department of Health to ensure that we support these innovative measures.”
This initiative is supported by the Department of Justice and An Garda Síochána. The HSE led surrender bin does not grant amnesty from arrest or prosecution for those found in possession of controlled drugs at the event and normal legislation and Garda enforcement plans apply.