Tackling The Stigma: Taking Music Festival Safety Seriously

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By Jenna Dreisenstock

The excitement of a music festival is an unprecedented feeling for all of us – the thrill of seeing our favourite acts live, the vivid light shows and immersive displays, the delicious artisan foods and most of all – partying the nights away with the people we’re close to in the music scenes we love.

However, the ecstacy of festivals can end in tragedy for many, and unfortunately the statistics ring this true. In a 2016 feature by Vice, it was revealed that 13% of music festival deaths are caused by drug and alcohol abuse / overdose. This makes up 75% of festival deaths on average, yet there are still many other factors to be tackled – such as theft, physical violence, sexual harassment and so on. In this regard, we need to take action and ask ourselves how we are going to make festivals safer for the communities who love them so much.

It has been reported that this summer’s festival season in the UK is hoping to reiterate that safety. With festival organisers making sure the environments are safer for festival-goers: this festival season, emergency contraception is going to be available for attendees all across the various music scenes. Thanks to the help of small organisations such as Medicine Man pharmacy, who will be attending the festivals this season: A safe space will be available at anytime to patrons in need of easily accessible contraception, emergency contraception or related medical emergencies. Obvious in their necessity, this kind of safety measure can prevent many ill-happenings, whether at the festival or post-festival.

Tackling drug and alcohol issues can be a lot more difficult in nature however. Alcohol needs no introduction as we all know it’s one of the most dangerous substances in its own right, and to drink in moderation is important to maintain a healthy and comfortable festival experience – it’s difficult to just tell people not to go overboard – in which case emergency medical care needs to be ready. However when it comes to drug usage, the illegality of substances means that many people indulge in these experiences secretly, from unknown and possibly dangerous sources: this could mean anything from buying a certain drug and then finding it to be laced, or worse – finding out that drug is not the same drug paid for, but rather an extremely harmful and dangerous concoction of chemicals the user is then unaware of – which could easily lead to injury and overdose. Therefore, due to the ways in which drug usage is monitored: the danger of drug overdose increases – for example, it is reported that many of the overdose deaths caused by drugs like ecstasy – sometimes hasn’t actually been ecstacy at all, rather an extremely dangerous concoction of other various substances ranging from other drugs such as PCP and Fentanyl, to rat poison and talcum powder cocktails.

We can preach abstinence all we wish, however the reality is – people are going to use substances and take drugs at festivals. What’s most important here, is that we make sure they have safe spaces to go so we can prevent as much harm as possible. For example – tents in which festival-goers can bring their substances and have them tested without judgement, to make sure the drug is actually the substance the user intended on consuming as well as making sure the dosage is also correctly administered to avoid overdoses. Organisations like The Loop set up facilities at festivals in which festival-goers can have these substances tested and correctly analysed as well as safely disposed of if any harmful substances or chemicals are detected. The war on drug usage and illegality has caused more deaths than it has prevented, and in order for us to prevent fatalities we need to talk about these subjects openly.

In order for our music and festival scenes to thrive, we need to make sure that each festival-goer will have access to necessary medical treatment and care – this includes making sure that these spaces are inclusive, understanding and open for all when it comes to the ways in which they choose to enjoy the party. With the help of organisations like The Loop and Medicine Man, we are taking steps to lower the risk of fatalities and harm caused at festivals which is fantastic – however, the stigma regarding these subjects is harsh and can prevent these positive steps even though safety of all attendees should be a priority, with these organisations needed as a required part of the festival experience.