HSE launches Safer Nightlife programme to reduce harms this summer

HSE Press Release

Sunday, 21st May 2023

Embargoed until 00.01 hrs on Monday, 22nd May 2023



  • Be in the know before you go, stay up to date with Drugs.ie
  • Drug market changes are a concern, consider surrendering drugs for analysis
  • Mixing drugs increases the risks of unexpected reactions and drug emergencies
  • If you go, go slow to reduce harms
  • Medics are your mates

Today (Monday, 22nd May 2023), the HSE is launching their drug harm-reduction campaign aimed at people attending Irish music festivals this summer.

Continuing the work of last summer’s successful pilot project, the HSE is partnering with a small number of festivals this year to put in place Safer Nightlife harm reduction programmes onsite. The multi-component campaign will involve outreach at festivals’ ‘back of house’ drug checking through the use of surrender bins, media awareness and a social media campaign.

Minister for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy Hildegarde Naughton said: “I am delighted to see the HSE Safer Nightlife Programme progress and expand into its second year. It is an excellent example of reducing the harms of drug use through interagency work and engaging closely with people who may be considering using drugs. The programme was incredibly successful in 2022, and allowed us to highlight particularly dangerous substances encountered in festival settings while also creating greater awareness for people who use drugs as part of the night time economy.

“The Programme for Government contains the commitment to increase drug monitoring at festivals, and harm reduction interventions, such as the Safer Nightlife Programme, can save people’s lives. I will continue to work alongside colleagues in the HSE to see this invaluable initiative rolled out even further in the months and years ahead.”

Prof Eamon Keenan, HSE’s National Clinical Lead, Addiction Services, commented: “I am delighted to launch the second phase of our Safer Nightlife campaign that includes an expanded ‘back of house’ drug checking service with an aim to identify drug market trends of concern. This approach will improve our drug monitoring capabilities and help to tailor our harm reduction services in Ireland. Through a ‘back of house’ approach we can access drugs in a safe, non-judgemental manner to quickly gain insight on what drugs may be in circulation and issue real time drug alerts about substances of concern to festival attendees via our social media channels.

“As shown at the first phase conducted at Electric Picnic last summer, this approach has the potential to identify trends otherwise unknown. The HSE found trends of concern including high potency drugs, 12 new psychoactive substances and 4 drugs which had never been identified before in Ireland.

“We are working with An Garda Síochána to guarantee that the Drugs.ie and medical tents are health-led settings and safe spaces for people to talk about their use and consider surrendering drugs. The HSE and Gardaí will work closely on operational plans to ensure the ‘back of house’ drug monitoring can be conducted for harm reduction purposes and that the surrender bin areas can be used safely by people attending the event.

“As well as high strength drugs appearing, as seen recently in the UK, we are currently concerned about the possibility of new psychoactive substances being mis-sold as MDMA pills or crystal, cocaine and cannabis. New drugs are continuing to emerge and we must be aware of the risks they pose, in particular the risks of overdose and mental health problems. While the HSE recognises that it is safer not to use drugs at all and there is always risk, the campaign has been developed in response to a changing drug landscape in Ireland and aims to offer people who use drugs practical harm-reduction information on how they can reduce health harms if they choose to use.”

Nicki Killeen, Emerging Drug Trends Project Manager, HSE said: “We currently have a number of concerns regarding the contents of drugs. We want to know if drugs contain harmful adulterants, if new drugs are in circulation or if something poses an extra risk due to its strength. We found 6 similar MDMA skull pills last summer that varied from containing 36mg – 235mg of MDMA which shows that people can never be fully sure of the contents and pills can vary even from the same batch.

“We are also concerned about the emergence of new drugs such as synthetic cathinones in stimulants and synthetic cannabinoids which could be sold as cannabis, vape or edibles. We ask people to follow our information on social media, chat with us at events to discuss how the programme works and how we can support them to reduce the harms. Our harm reduction volunteer teams will offer non-judgmental and confidential support. They will operate between the festival community and medical teams to create a safe space for people who use drugs”

Minister Catherine Martin, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, added: “My Department was delighted to partner with the HSE and the Department of Health on the pilot last year in support of a safer Night-Time Economy and our collaboration is continuing this year to improve health and social responses in nightlife settings. I want to see people enjoying everything our night-time economy has to offer but we also want people to be safe. I welcome this second phase of the HSE’s Safer Nightlife campaign and urge people to engage with it.”

How you can stay safe at festivals this summer:

  • Tell your friends if you decide to use drugs at the festival. Try to have one friend who doesn’t use, be with people you trust, avoid using alone and stick together.
  • Be in the know before you go: See the new HSE festival information on the latest trends, follow drugs.ie on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
  • Start low and go slow, take a small test dose. Pace yourself by taking a small amount and leaving time between use can help you identify how you are reacting to the substance. If you don’t react as expected, avoid taking anymore.
  • Leave the mixing to the DJ: Avoid mixing drugs, including alcohol and prescription medication. This can increase your risk of becoming unwell or experiencing a drug emergency. Alcohol will increase the risks with all drugs. MDMA could interact negatively with some medications such as antidepressants.
  • Keep cool and stay hydrated: Sip water but don’t drink over a pint an hour as drinking too much water can be dangerous as this can cause a blood salt imbalance in your body. Take breaks from dancing and give yourself time to cool down.
  • Medics are your mates: Don’t be afraid to get help if you or a friend becomes physically or mentally unwell. Know the location of the medical tent at events and what you would do in case of an emergency. Be honest with medics about what was taken, they are there to help.
  • Consider surrendering drugs if ‘back of house’ monitoring is available at an event you attend: Chat with the harm reduction teams onsite for more information.
  • Follow drugs.ie this summer for drug alerts

The HSE is partnering with a small number of festivals this year to put in place harm reduction programmes onsite. Teams of HSE trained volunteers will available to talk about the ‘back of house’ programme, drug trends and harm-reduction practices with attendees, while also supporting people in cases of drug emergencies. The aim of these teams is to work as part of wider health and safety plans at events. We want to engage with festival-goers to educate them on drug risks and trends in circulation. Our goal is to support people on how to minimise harms to their health, including overdose prevention.

With hundreds of thousands attending festivals across Ireland this summer, the HSE wants people to stay safe. The message is clear; it is always safer not to use drugs at all. But we need to acknowledge that festivals can be risk-taking settings where people may try drugs for the first time or try new types of drugs.

This harm-reduction campaign aims to help educate people who use drugs at events so they can make informed decisions. For more information visit drugs.ie/festivals or follow #IfYouGoGoSlow and #HSESaferNightlife on social media.

Last updated on: 22 / 05 / 2023