After the temporary closing of Fabric, we chat to the drug-testers about how to prevent clubbing deaths.
“The club will be closed this weekend”; the words which every raver dreads to read about their favourite nightclub. Earlier this month London’s Fabric displayed that exact message on their website, but this wasn’t due to regular maintenance checks or refurbishment, it was much more serious. In the past two months two 18-year-old boys have died on separate occasions from drug overdoses causing the club no choice but to close their doors with their licence being reviewed by Islington Borough Council next month.
With tragic stories like these making frequent front page headlines, it begs the question: how can we regulate drugs? Fiona Measham, who is Professor of criminology at Durham University, explains her frustration at the lack of harm reduction for clubbers, which led to setting up drugs awareness organisation ‘The Loop’: “It seemed like we were going backwards over the last twenty years” she says. Measham co-founded the charity in 2013 alongside DJ and promoter Wilf Gregory who puts on Metropolis drum and bass nights in Leeds and Manchester. “His concerns were working in that environment and seeing the lack of support for young people out and about taking drugs” Measham says and just last year drug-regulating took a blow in Canada when Evolve Festival’s insurance provider ludicrously pulled the plug on their involvement when its organisers moved to offer free drugs tests.
Back in the UK, staple Manchester raving destination, The Warehouse Project, has always supported ‘The Loop’, allowing their group of PhD chemists to conduct drug testing at events. Having spread their potentially life-saving advice a to European festivals such as Lost and Found and Hideout festival, The Loop has now been trialing tests in the green pastures of UK festivals and is proving to be effective. “In both of the pilot festivals this summer (Kendall Calling and Secret Garden Party), it did help to reduce the pressure on other services because we were mopping up the drug related concern” says Measham, hopeful that Creamfields and Parklife will also pick up the procedure next year.
Their drug testing is a simple process; festival goers voluntarily bring their pill or small scoop of powder to the charity’s onsite labs and they can tell them what the active ingredient is and estimate how the MDMA purity percentage rather than risking it containing potentially deadly substances such as PMA/PMMA contaminants. “I think probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that we test the drugs and give them back. We never encourage or condone any drug use. We don’t just give out the results, they do have a fifteen-minute harm reduction brief intervention package and our evidence that people do engage with that is about a quarter of people chose for us to dispose of their drugs” Measham states. It’s estimated that The Loop directly reached over one thousand people at Secret Garden Party, so that’s more than a small victory with a couple of hundred choosing to bin their drugs entirely. The charity also Tweet results of the strength of certain pills tested whilst on festival grounds so revelers can keep clued up from their tents.
— The Loop (@WeAreTheLoopUK) July 31, 2016
Ravers may be concerned about stepping forward for testing in fear of officers prosecuting them there and then but this isn’t the case. Measham explains: “The police couldn’t be more supportive; they are at the vanguard of this. They recognise from a pragmatic point of view that once the drugs are on site they’re gonna be consumed so the priority then is to reduce drug related harm.”
However, whilst encouraged by festival organisers and Manchester police, drugs testing is still absent from London clubs. The Loop are only available to offer advice to drug users at Fabric such as their recent ‘#CrushDabWait’ campaign along with fellow drug welfare team ‘Chill’, after an increase in people using high dosages of MDMA crystals. But after international media exposure in America and Australia, Measham is hoping The Loop can branch out into the capital’s nightlife by the end of the year.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan recently urged Fabric and Metropolitan and Islington police to find a way to protect clubbers but online drug debate website ‘TalkingDrugs’ have been quick to publish a letter asking Mr. Khan to: ‘publicly announce that police will be instructed to not prosecute people for their involvement with drug testing’. The pressure doesn’t end there either; ‘Anyone’s Child’ is another voice calling for the legal regulation of drugs stating that: “By making drugs illegal, we have handed the market to criminals, rather than the government.” Due to lack of regulation, there is an increased chance of MDMA and other party drugs being cut with more lethal substances.
Whilst there are websites such as ‘Pill Reports’ and ‘Erowid’ which can advise on dosage and the effects of drugs, what The Loop offers is first hand, with a direct effect. So as our beloved capital city, wake up London, and save not only lives but also our sacred clubs, before it’s too late.
Words by Josh Shreeve