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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Shutterstock/Melinda Nagy
working group

HSE addiction expert: Festivals that don't provide drug information and support should be refused a licence

Some promoters are keen to explore new measures but others fear it would do reputational damage.

MUSIC FESTIVALS COULD be refused a licence to run their events if they don’t provide harm reduction advice to guests under measures set to be discussed at a working group next month. last week revealed that discussions have already begun with labs capable of carrying out drug-testing in a number of locations across Ireland, in a bid to reduce the health risks associated with taking drugs at the events. 

On site drug-testing would require a change to existing legislation and is considered a longer-term approach to harm reduction.

Another measure to be examined, however, surrounds the responsibility of organisers for the welfare of their guests, and ways they can proactively engage in harm reduction. 

Dr Eamon Keenan, the HSE’s national clinical lead in addiction services, told that he will support introducing new regulations that require promoters to provide harm reduction advice to everyone who purchases a ticket. 

He said those which did not agree to such a measure should not be granted a licence to host it. 

“Going forward, I think promoters should only get their licence – depending on the numbers attending – if they meet a requirement to have HSE emergency management teams involved,” he said. 

“We’ll be trying to get that rolled out [as] part of the contract of festivals getting their licences.

We need to get the message to people beforehand, so that requires working with promoters and making sure that the people they are selling tickets to are being provided with harm reduction information.

“They need to use their contact base as a mechanism to get harm reduction information out to them as early as possible, as opposed to on the day when people have already taken substances.

“Let’s not forget if you have a festival of 10,000 people with a stand of two staff members at it there is limited reach. But promoters have all those people beforehand via their emails so they can use that base.”

The HSE launched its latest campaign this summer to encourage festival-goers not to take drugs, and if they are taking drugs, to avoid mixing substances. 

They have set up stalls at Boxed Off, Higher Vision, and Body and Soul – where HSE teams are engaging with people on-site and gathering information that will inform discussions in the future. 

However, as it stands there are not enough resources to have HSE teams at every event in the country and as promoters have a responsibility for the welfare of their guests, they should be providing their own welfare teams, according to Keenan. 

“At the minute we don’t have the resources to send teams to festivals so we can only rely on volunteers that we train up along with the staff from our own offices. 

“So we would like to see them source their own teams as a way to do it [and] we would have to be involved in the training part of it because that is important.” 

Keenan confirmed he has already been engaging with music events to examine new methods of welfare supports for those taking illegal substances in the lead up to or during the events. 

Reputational damage

Some are fearful, however, that if measures such as on-site drug-testing tents are introduced, it could cause reputational damage if the public begins to associate festivals with drug use. 

“They are concerned about this,” he said. “They’re saying they are concerned that if they promote harm reduction then they won’t be seen as family friendly, and if they aren’t seen as being family friendly people might be disinclined to go there.”

Keenan said the HSE would support bringing in the skills and expertise of advocacy groups and organisations which are in a position to provide volunteer welfare teams.  

The Ana Liffey Drug Project (ALDP) is one group which has for a number years been providing welfare teams to Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Co Laois and Life festival in Mullingar, Co Westmeath. 

Tony Duffin, CEO of the ALDP said it is vital that festivals review and introduce harm reduction measures every year to ensure all attendees are aware of the risks associated with drugs.

“Harm Reduction is not new, it’s been around since the mid-80s and is proven to help reduce drug-related harms,” he said.

“What’s vitally important is that harm reduction is revisited for each and every festival – as there are always festival-goers that need to hear how to manage any drug related risks they may be planning to take.”

He added: “Our welfare team volunteers time and expertise to provide our specialist service. It’s a model used in other countries whereby drug service NGOs work in partnership with promoters, state agencies and other health and welfare providers.”

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