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Festivals need to become a safer environment

Festivals have taken place for decades as a meeting point for like minded individuals to celebrate music, art and culture. In particular, electronic dance music festivals have grown in popularity.

During the same time, Global Drug Survey reports an increase of drug users around the world, plus another report of more causalities at festivals. And everyone seems to ask – what is to blame?

A bad batch of pills? Lack of water intake? Too much water? Overheating?

While some festivals implement harm reduction methods; by providing information on substances, pill testing, chill-out areas for bad trips and free water access, attendees are more misinformed than ever.

The possibility of an overdose has increased as substances are contaminated with toxic additives. Most overdose deaths are caused by polypharmacy (taking multiple drugs at once) and the rates are increasing.

Should we raise the minimum age?

One potential solution is raising the minimum age to 21-and-older. Does an older crowd generate a more collective maturity? Are they more experienced with drug culture at this age?

Mitchell Gomez from harm-reduction group DanceSafe, says:

“Making festivals 21+ is a fairly common suggestion for reducing adverse medical incidents and deaths. Although I’m not aware of any studies done on the effect of changing the minimum age of entry for events, there do seem to be a disproportionate number of people under the age of 21 who pass away at these events.”

Electronic music festivals draw a young crowd. Older generations are not common. But then again, it’s hard to age discriminate, as anyone is capable of abusing substances.

Should we provide more information?

Festivals and governments need to stop ignoring there’s an issue and provide more information. A recent survey found that 60 percent of young people at festivals admitted to using MDMA, so it’s a widespread use.

Many festivals around the world do not implement a full harm reduction policy – including pill testing, save zones, information about drinking water and body temperature. 

When DanceSafe is permitted to administer onsite drug testing at some music festivals around the world, most people choose to throw out the substance if the result of the test is not what they expected.

So why is no one talking about it?

In most countries around the world, admitting attendees consume drugs on festival premises can lead to criminal and financial liability.

Any event organizer or venue owner could face fines or jail time for encouraging drug use. So, with a hefty prosecution, it’s no surprise most festivals don’t talk about it.

But some countries, like Portugal are making the change, home to festivals like the popular Boom Festival.

Kosmicare at Boom Festival

In 2001, the Portuguese government decriminalized drugs, which means projects for risk minimisation and harm reduction such as Kosmicare are allowed. While Boom Festival do not advocate the use of drugs, they acknowledge drug use takes place and provide the right information and services to festival attendees.

Kosmicare Association, is an NGO that provides everything from onsite drug-checking to round-the-clock psychological support for anyone at Boom Festival. More recently, they’ve noticed drugs are tainted with other harmful chemicals, keeping a volunteer staff of 40+ people very busy.

DanceSafe at Tomorrowland

In 2013, DanceSafe was thrilled to join TomorrowWorld and take part in North America’s first chapter of TomorrowLand, which is considered Europe’s largest dance music festival. Given the recent influx of hospitalizations at EDM events in the U.S., DanceSafe was asked to bring their harm reduction services to TomorrowWorld to share with its over 140,000 attendees

DanceSafe’s mission

DanceSafe’s mission is to promote health and safety within the nightlife, rave, and electronic music communities by using harm reduction and popular education as guiding principles. Since 1998, the organization has set up at electronic music events and music festivals to provide a panel of unbiased drug information; resources and information on safe sex, free condoms, and lube; information on heatstroke, taking breaks, and nutrition; a hydration station with free water and information on water consumption and electrolytes; and other health needs such as basic first aid, tampons and sunblock. They are also responsible for implementing drug checking [adulterant screening/test kits] in North America.

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