20th June 2023
The presence of the HSE Safer Nightlife programme at the Body and Soul Festival in Kilrush, Co Westmeath, last weekend, following on from their presence at the recent Life Festival in Mullingar, has been a success, according to Prof Eamon Keenan, HSE national clinical lead for addiction services. Designed as a drug harm reduction programme for summer festivals, the Safer Nightlife project proved successful as a pilot scheme when first introduced at the Electric Picnic Festival last year. Reflecting on the Electric Picnic experience, Prof Kennan explained that they had “volunteers engaging with people, talking to them about drugs. We had two surrender bins, one in a HSE tent and the other in a medical tent. People were encouraged to surrender drugs into those bins.
“We identified a couple of really interesting things. We identified first of all that the drug MDMA at high potency or high strength was circulating. As a result, we were able to put an image of that out to everybody at the festival, including at either side of the stage."
“Then we identified a drug called 3CMC which is a cathinone or a stimulant drug, one of the new psychoactive substances that had never been identified in Ireland. It carries risks associated with mental health problems, psychosis, and suicide ideation and as a result we were able to put information out about that. So, it was a very successful way of us identifying what was actually happening in real-time.”
For 2023, Prof Keenan outlined how they wanted to “start - as we always do - from the premise that it’s safer not to use drugs at all, but the reality is that festivals are settings where some people do use drugs and that can be risky, so we want to get that information out to those people. Our 2023 plans include distributing resources at the various festivals, recruiting and training volunteers and expanding our testing.”
Conscious of wanting to engage with different types of festivals, Prof Keenan explained that various events offer “different music, different experiences. We anticipated that there might be different substance use associated with such different events. So we wanted, for example, to look at smaller festivals than Electric Picnic. Life Festival in Mullingar was a good starting point.”
Having attended at the Mullingar event, they were subsequently invited to attend at the Body and Soul Festival. Prof Keenan points to the positivity and outcomes that such collaborations yield for all involved. Stressing that this is a “health-led initiative,” Prof Keenan adds that there is “no judgment of people. This works well and we also have a very good working relationship with An Garda Siochana.”
A drug-trend update following the drug-checking initiative at Life Festival showed that a total of 97 samples of drugs were surrendered to the HSE over the 3-day period, relating to concerns around ketamine; an MDMA pill, and cocaine. The health risks associated with these substances were communicated in social media alerts via the website drugs.ie and by drugs.ie volunteers on the ground.
The HSE is currently conducting a secondary analysis to further identify other components within the drugs.
Speaking about the initial findings from the Life event, Prof Keenan explained that they had issued “three risk communications via the drugs.ie social media channels. Our trained volunteers engaged with attendees at the drugs.ie tent, campsites and arenas. The analysis of substances at these events allows us to identify substances of concern, provide real-time information in relation to drugs circulating, engage with festival goers and reduce drug-related harm. It’s part of a comprehensive drug monitoring programme that the HSE addiction services are progressing.
“The HSE would like to thank the festival promoters of Life Festival for their support and engagement over the weekend which ensured an integrated harm-reduction system was delivered onsite. We would also like to thank the organisers and promoters of the Body and Soul Festival for their co-operation last weekend.”
Nicki Killeen, HSE project manager, emerging drug trends, said people who came to the drugs.ie tent at the Life event reported extremely positive feedback. She explained that they wanted to “ensure that the tent was an environment where people felt safe and respected. While it is hard to quantify this work, we can say we were extremely busy and received a positive reaction from attendees. Over 1,000 re-usable water bottles with harm reduction information on hydration, along with 1,000 lip balms and 300 re-usable tote bags with drugs.ie messaging were provided to attendees.
“The preliminary analytical results provide us with further insights into the changing drug landscape in Ireland. The MDMA we tested ranged from 50mg to 246mg in products, showing the diversity of MDMA available on the Irish market. This confirms that the public can’t be sure of the purity and how they will react.
“We also had a number of submissions to the drugs.ie tent from festival-goers whose friends became unwell. This meant we could apply analytical techniques to examine what substances may have led to these cases, providing real-time information for medics and those impacted.
“Looking to the future, our Safer Nightlife Programme has a central role in reducing drug-related harms at events and in the night-time economy.”
The Safer Nightlife and Festivals - HSE Pilot Drug Monitoring and Information recently won a PRCA PR award for 'Best Public Information Campaign'.
This week’s Talking Health and Wellbeing podcast is focused on the HSE Safer Nightlife Programme with Nicki Killeen. Listen to find out more about the work underway to reduce the harm of drugs used in ‘nightlife’ settings (Spotify.com) Find more harm reduction advice