Wake up! Drug Use Happens, Harm Reduction is Necessary

It’s widely known that recreational drugs are popular at music festivals. Lawmakers, festival organizers, security, and police are aware of this, so they heavily search cars upon arrival and state that drugs are not allowed on festival websites. This is not effective because people find a way to get substances in, and arresting people isn’t the solution. In order to prevent drug-related overdoses and deaths within our community, harm reduction services need to be universally available.

Harm Reduction in a Nutshell

The primary concept of harm reduction is to implement strategies that reduce the adverse consequences associated with drug use. It’s a straightforward approach that strives to educate people and provide unbiased information about recreational drugs. Organizations like DanceSafe and The Zendo Project are spearheading this for the music festival community by offering harm reduction booths at events.

Photo courtesy of DanceSafe

Drug Testing and The RAVE Act

DanceSafe is fantastic because they provide drug testing kits and services, though there are limitations to this. Anybody can buy the testing kits online, but a drug checking station at a festival could cause event organizers in the United States to be prosecuted under the RAVE Act. Harm reduction or drug testing booths indicate that the organizers are “maintaining a drug-involved premise”, which violates current law.  However, since the act was passed in 2003, not one organizer has been charged or convicted for violating it.

While the RAVE Act discourages some festival organizers from providing harm reduction services, others take a gamble and allow these organizations to set up booths at events. These serve as a safe space for attendees to talk with an educated, nonjudgemental volunteer about drugs. They also offer free informational flyers, condoms, lube, ear plugs, electrolytes, water, and information about their testing kits.

Model After Shambhala

Photo Credit: Jason Brooks | Shambhala Music Festival 2016

Thankfully there’s no legislation resembling the RAVE Act in Canada, which means that Shambhala Music Festival is able to provide free on-site drug testing for its attendees. Volunteers at the Ankors booth test small drug samples that people bring in to identify and provide advice about the substance. A white board outside the booth lists potentially dangerous drugs that are circulating throughout the festival to help attendees make informed decisions before purchasing or taking substances. If the RAVE act is amended in the United States, music festivals can adopt a similar approach for more effective harm reduction.

Photo courtesy of DanceSafe

Individual Responsibility

Since it’s somewhat difficult for music festivals in the U.S. to provide drug testing or education, it’s up to the music festival community to practice this on a personal level until bigger changes happen. Take responsibility for yourself by testing drugs at home and at festivals. Even though testing kits don’t show potency, they do indicate what the most prevalent substance is. You should also know your source and always start by taking small doses. DanceSafe put together a list of ten safety tips to help festival enthusiasts learn about safe drug use if they choose to partake.  

Breaking the Stigma

Summer Meltdown 2016 | Photo by Miranda Palacio

Considering drug use is a common theme in the electronic music festival scene, there’s a predominant stigma that has been created about the community and drugs. There are those that feel this is not justified. Many people attend these events without using any party drugs at all. For many attendees, the experience is all about exploring art, culture, spirituality, and self-discovery with a like-minded community…sober. If you are one of these people and have stayed away due to the stigma that these events have been given, fear not, there are plenty of sober spaces. If you want to attend a festival without the pressure of the drug world, there are community groups that host sober camps and encourage drug and alcohol free partying.
That being said, the rising popularity of electronic music festivals calls for harm reduction. However, in order for this to happen the music festival community must come together and demand change. The road won’t be an easy one, but the smallest actions now impact the future success of our harm reduction services. You can get involved by volunteering or donating to organizations like DanceSafe, The Zendo Project, and Ankors. Use your voice to raise awareness about how crucial it is for festivals to provide these services for the health and wellness of their attendees.

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Brianna Allen

Music festival enthusiast and cat fanatic! Enjoys camping and backpacking through Idaho's beautiful mountains.