25th November 2022
The results of a ‘first of its kind’ pilot drug test programme at this year’s Electric Picnic festival finds high-strength MDMA samples and a new substance 3-CMC not detected in Ireland before.
Taking place at Electric Picnic in September, the pilot involved festivalgoers anonymously putting drugs into HSE surrender bins at the HSE harm reduction tent and the festival medical tent. The substances were then moved by accredited staff members to our onsite portable laboratory and analysed by staff from the HSE National Drug Treatment Centre Laboratory using a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) machine. As part of the Safer Nightlife Harm Reduction Campaign, the pilot aimed to access, test and identify substances in a festival setting, alert the public, harm reduction services, and onsite medics to any dangerous substances identified and gain insights on drug trends.
Drug risk communications
A total of 46 samples were received and tested in real-time at the event, with 42 samples seeing drug content found. The HSE issued three different risk communications relating to concerns around a particular MDMA product, high-strength powders and crystals and the emergence of a new substance 3-CMC (a cathinone drug that can cause significant mental health problems). These risk communications were shared on social media, on the Electric Picnic app, and on display screens located throughout the event and received significant attention across the mainstream media and on social media.
“While this report represents a relatively small number of samples numerically, we must recognise the importance of this pilot project and our findings,” commented HSE National Clinical Lead Addiction Services, Professor Eamon Keenan.
The pilot is a real example of cross-sectoral collaboration, where all agencies agreed on the need to collaborate to identify emerging drug trends, with an aim of protecting the health of people attending the event.
First of its kind in Ireland
“This programme is the first of its kind in Ireland, whereby the HSE accessed substances from people who use drugs to conduct real-time analysis for the purpose of sharing risk communications at a festival. As a result, the HSE were able to quickly share accurate information with the public to encourage harm reduction discussions both in person (HSE Volunteers were available throughout the venue) and online over the course of the event. We obtained quantitative estimates of MDMA being used in Ireland which we have never had access to before, while we engaged with hidden and niche user groups whom we otherwise would not have contact with through traditional addiction services.”
The project confirms for the first time that high-strength MDMA products are appearing in Ireland similar to the rest of Europe, which significantly increases the risks for people. Five MDMA powders were confirmed as almost pure MDMA which creates harm reduction challenges.
Key findings showed that drug content was identified in a total of 42 samples (91%) as part of pilot. Four samples remain unconfirmed. Nineteen MDMA samples were submitted (eight powders and 11 pills). Five MDMA powders tested as almost pure MDMA. 'Ecstasy' pills ranged in strength from 36mg to 235mg of MDMA. Twelve New Psychoactive substances were submitted: seven tabs, four powders/crystals, and one tablet. Three of these new psychoactive substances identified had not been previously detected in Ireland (3-CMC, 5-MAPB, 4-HO-MiPT). Three risk communications were issued relating to a high-strength 'MyBrand' purple skull MDMA pill, high-potency MDMA powders, and the emergence of 3-CMC (a cathinone drug)
Emerging Drug Trends Project Manager at the National Social Inclusion Office, Nicki Killeen, said: “From a research perspective, it is extremely interesting that we accessed such diversity in the drug samples including very novel compounds. These results provide us with further insight on the changing drug landscape in Ireland. Based on this, it is clear that there is a need to further expand this approach to include more frequent analysis in new settings."
“As the drug market evolves, Ireland must prepare for possible changes and associated health threats with substance analysis having a central role in this process to help us identify concerns and respond at a faster rate to reduce harm.”
The report recommends a series of future actions such as engaging with the public to obtain feedback on the pilot and considering how the HSE can further access substances from people who use drugs for health purposes to expand on this approach.
Read the full report from Ireland's first back of house drug testing