Over the weekend, Bristol took important steps towards harm reduction by trialling the UK’s first city centre drug testing service, delivered via a partnership between The Loop and Love Saves the Day festival.
The service allowed people in Bristol to anonymously test substances at The Loop’s pop up lab to find out exactly what is inside their baggies and access non-judgemental, tailored advice on safe drug use.
Rather than endorsing drug use or criminalising it, harm reduction policies and schemes work towards reducing the harm associated with drug taking for people who are unwilling or unable to stop using drugs. Non-profit organisation The Loop have been providing drug safety testing, welfare and harm reduction services at festivals and events since 2013, although this is the first time they’ve been able to set up shop in a city centre.
In Bristol, The Loop found that 1 in 5 drug samples had been missold and further samples were much higher strength than expected
In Bristol, The Loop found that 1 in 5 drug samples had been missold and further samples were much higher strength than expected. Armed with potentially life-saving information such as this, people can make more informed decisions about the quantity of drugs they choose to take, or avoid harmful substances altogether. When The Loop ran the same testing facility at Boomtown last summer, for example, nearly half of people who used the service said they would reduce their drug taking or discard their drugs afterwards.
Following the success of the city centre trial, with backing from Bristol City Council and Avon and Somerset Police, The Loop will be bringing their pop up lab back to the Bristol later this month on the day before Love Saves the Day, open to anyone wanting to test their drugs, whether they are planning on attending the festival or not. People using the service will not have their samples returned to them, although they will not face any legal action either.
The Loop will be bringing their pop up lab back to the Bristol later this month
The pop-up lab will then move over to the festival site at Eastville Park on 26 and 27 May, where they join drug and alcohol support service charity Bristol Drugs Project, who will have a presence at the festival for a fifth year running.
‘We’re a small, independent festival and we really care about our audience. Their safety is paramount,’ says LSTD festival director Tom Paine. ‘We want to be completely clear that this service in no way condones substance abuse at any of our events.’
The LSTD team will continue to strictly enforce searches at the festival gates and work with Avon and Somerset Police to pursue any criminal organisations suspected of operating on site. Combined with drug safety testing pre-festival and on site, this forms part of a 360 degree approach adopted by the festival for 2018.
Tom continues: ‘In our six years of LSTD we’ve never had a drug-related fatality, we want to be as proactive as we possibly can in ensuring that never happens in the future.’
We were excited that such a vibrant city as Bristol was the first to embrace drug safety testing
Director of the Loop Fiona Measham says ‘We were excited that such a vibrant city as Bristol was the first to embrace drug safety testing, in a partnership with the police, council, public health and the local drugs service that hosted us.
‘After two summers of festival safety testing reducing drug-related harm, we were keen to open up the service so that everyone has the opportunity to test substances of concern, including those who might not be able to attend or afford festivals (…) The point is that none of us knows what dealers are selling unless we test.’
You can find out more about The Loop and their #timetotest campaign over on wearetheloop.org.
26 & 27 May – Love Saves the Day 2018, Eastville Park