HSE to run drug-testing service at several summer festivals

Surrender bins to feature along with medical tents where information can be sought about safety first

Vast differences in MDMA concentrations in apparently identical “skull” pills and new psychoactive substances being mis-sold as MDMA pills or crystal are among Health Service Executive concerns as the music festival season gets under way.

In a bid to minimise potential overdoses, adverse reactions and even death the executive is extending its drug-testing service to “a small number of festivals” this summer. The Safer Nightlife harm reduction programme, which was piloted at last year’s Electric Picnic involved outreach as well as “back of house” drug checking through the use of surrender bins,

As well as these bins there will be medical tents where non-judgemental information can be sought about how to be safe while taking drugs.

Psychoactive substances

At the Electric Picnic last year the HSE testers found “trends of concern including high potency drugs, 12 new psychoactive substances and four drugs which had never been identified before in Ireland”, said Prof Eamon Keenan, the executive’s national clinical lead in addiction services.


“As well as high-strength drugs, 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.”

Nicki Killeen, the HSE’s emerging drug trends project manager, 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.

“Last summer we found six similar MDMA skull pills that varied from containing 36mg to 235mg of MDMA, which shows 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 cathinone [similar to amphetamine] in stimulants and synthetic cannabinoids which could be sold as cannabis, vape or edibles.”

Reducing harm

She added: “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.”

Among the measures people can take to be safe are to tell friends if deciding to use drugs at the festival and try to have one friend who doesn’t use. Start with a low dose, leave time to see how you react and don’t take any more if your reaction is unexpected. Don’t mix drugs including with alcohol or prescription medication and keep cool and stay hydrated, but don’t drink more than a pint an hour.

“Don’t be afraid to get help if you or a friend becomes physically or mentally unwell,” says the guidance. “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.”

For more information, follow drugs.ie on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times