Picture the scene, you are at Bonnaroo or Coachella walking around and catch sight of different groups indulging in various substances, including those all too familiar pills with a smiley face on them. Later in the day you see paramedics wheeling out some of the people you saw from earlier. You may think “Well, someone had a bad trip.” While that certainly may be true, the situation could be much more serious than you thought: an overdose.
Aside from overdosing, another huge risk associated with substances is the possibility of a tainted batch or your pills/powder not even being what you think it is. In fact, a study by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine tracked the testing of 529 samples that were thought to be MDMA (molly) at various events from 2010 to 2015. As it turns out, only 60% of the samples actually contained molly, with the majority also containing methamphetamines and cathinones (bath salts). Even fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid with two milligrams being a lethal dose, has commonly been found in samples of other substances. Fortunately, there are non-profit harm reduction groups like DanceSafe and Bunk Police who have been selling test kits and providing education for people to promote healthier and safer raving and partying. Unfortunately groups like these, especially in the U.S.A., are limited in what they can provide due to legal issues.
In 2002, a bill was proposed by Joe Biden, who was a senator at the time, that would federally make music venues and campgrounds legally liable for illicit drug use on their property. Ironically enough, this bill was dubbed “Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act, or the RAVE Act". This bill was initially met with pushback. But after some slight tweaking, renaming it to the “Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act,” and including it within a child safety law that created the Amber Alert system, this bill eventually became law. Out of fear of being raided by the DEA, which has happened in the past, many popular festivals prevent and hinder groups like Bunk Police from coming into the festival and selling their test kits. Since many states view test kits as paraphernalia, often times these groups resort to underhanded methods to sneak their test kits into festivals. Interestingly enough most opposition does not come from local law enforcement but from private security teams that the festivals’ hire themselves, who often ban people caught selling test kits.
However, many other western countries in Europe as well as Canada and Australia have come to embrace test sites at festivals and even set up whole tents for festival goers to go in to test and receive guidance on their substances. In the U.K., one of these tents was set up at the Secret Garden Party which found that one in ten samples contained substances different to what was expected. Revealing these results persuaded more than two thirds of people to dispose of their substances, leading to only one hospital admission compared to the previous year’s 19 hospital admissions.
Drug testing kit being used
So how exactly does a drug test kit work? A kit usually includes a plastic test tube, testing reagent, and a booklet to explain the results. You put a tiny amount of whatever you may have into the test tube then put a few drops of the proper reagent to see it turn a different color. The booklet provided will have a chart of different drugs and the colors they produce. Simple test kits are inexpensive too, usually costing around $20 online at websites like Bunk Police, even if in my mind they should be free. While test kits are certainly a step in the right direction, we will need to have organizations be legally protected to really do all that they can for harm reduction as shown in Europe. Changes to the law will have to be made to
make venue owners comfortable enough to let harm reduction groups operate freely. With the current political/social climate, it doesn’t seem that this issue will be seen as a priority anytime soon.
If you were thinking about travelling internationally sometime soon, you should look into upcoming festivals in Australia, Canada, or Europe to aid in deciding your destination. Even if you weren’t planning on indulging in anything at your next festival, it still would be terrible to have to see people you may know being wheeled away on a gurney to the hospital. Open and legally protected testing tents at festivals would provide a better experience for everyone regardless of what they choose to indulge in.
Editor's Note: Stay safe, look out for each other, and take every precaution you can to know what you are indulging in or using while partying. Too much of anything (and in today's world just a little) can kill you.