By: Idean Rezaei
Picture this, you are walking around Bonnaroo or Coachella, when all of a sudden you catch sight of a group indulging in various substances, many 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 earlier. You may think “Well, someone had a bad trip.”, and that certainly may be true, but the situation may be much more serious than you thought.
What is it that caused that person to need urgent medical attention? Now many would assume they overdosed and that is definitely a common cause, but unfortunately that is not the only reason. A huge risk associated with substances is the possibility of either a tainted batch or the 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. It turned out that 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, non-profit harm reduction groups like DanceSafe and Bunk Police have been selling test kits and providing education for people to promote healthier and safer raving. Unfortunately, groups like these, especially in the United States, are limited in what they can provide due to legal issues.
In 2002, a bill was proposed by former senator and now President, Joe Biden, that would federally make music venues and campgrounds legally liable for illicit drug use on their property. Festivals would be responsible the same way the owner of a trap house would be. 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 the fear of being raided by the DEA, which has happened, many popular festivals prevent and hinder groups like Bunk Police from coming into the festival and selling their test kits. Oftentimes these groups resort to underhanded methods to sneak their test kits into festivals since many states view test kits as paraphernalia. 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 would 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 against the 19 hospital admissions from the previous year.
So how exactly does a drug test kit work? A kit usually includes a plastic test tube, testing reagent, and a booklet to interpret 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. On top of that, there are even package deals for different reagents.
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 the U.K. Changes to the law will have to be made to make venue owners comfortable enough to let harm reduction groups operate freely. But especially with the current climate it doesn’t seem that this issue would be seen as a priority anytime in the near future. If you were thinking about travelling internationally sometime soon, you may want to look into upcoming festivals in Australia, Canada, or Europe to help make your decision on a destination. Even if you weren’t planning on indulging in anything at your next festival it still would be terrible 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. Overall, the goal of any festival goer is make an unforgettable experience and test kits would make it much safer to do that.