Drug-taking can make festivals feel ‘like a warzone’ says health expert

Health experts have urged parents to speak openly with their children as drug-taking at festivals persists.

Now that A-level results day is over, many young people are now completely free to enjoy the festivities of the summer.

With key festivals still on the calendar, there is still a chance that light-hearted fun could turn into a distorted and potentially fatal experience.

Dr Niall Campbell, based at the Priory’s Hospital in Roehampton, said: “The truth is that young people will have no idea what they are buying.

“The person selling to them might be drunk – but, in any case, they won’t care what they are selling you.

“There is absolutely no safe way to take illegal drugs.

“People go to festivals to have a good time and many will, but I have seen patients become psychotic and then paranoid.

“People take drugs sometimes because they want the distortion of sound and vision, but I have seen many develop panic disorders as a result.

“It is a very heavy price to pay.”

When attending a festival, Dr Campbell urged everyone to make sure they can identify the medical assistance team on the grounds.

This way, if medical assistance is required, they know directly who or where to go to.

Dr Campbell also stressed that in many cases, the name of the drug being sold has no correspondence to what is in the powder, pill or capsule.

Just this year, The Loop, an award-winning drug checking service, has seen copious amounts of drugs where the content of the drug does not reflect the name.

The Loop found that 45% of drugs they saw in 2021 that were being sold as MDMA did not contain any.

This figure has so far dropped to 11% this year – still higher than pre-pandemic levels – so there is still a challenge to the teams at festivals and high-profile events.

One of the key messages The Loop hope to get across is that you never know what you are buying, and below is one such example of the type of disparity users are facing.

Other unsuspecting names of drugs include Spongebob (cathinone), Pink Ferrari (missold as ecstasy), Purple Audi (MDMA), China Girl (fentanyl) and Blue Heaven (oxymorphone).

Laura Walker, a mental health nurse and a deputy ward manager at Roehampton Hospital said this of her time working in medical tents at festivals: “Young adults would come to the tent disorientated, confused, sometimes with signs of paranoia, after taking things – ketamine was quite common, but also mushrooms, LSD, cocaine and ecstasy.

“We would ask the friends what their friend had taken, and to try to be honest about it, so we could put warnings out there. Sometimes the tent could feel like a war zone. 

“Their friends would be very distressed. Sometimes they would be scared, traumatised and go straight home after seeing the effects of drug-taking.”

Dr Campbell and Walker both stressed the importance of parents having open conversations with their children – advising that they need to be made aware of the dangers and risks of illegal drug-taking without lecturing them.

Claudette* spent the majority of her youth going to festivals and having fun, as any university fresher or young person might do.

She said: “I think it’s important to know that all young people aren’t ignorant to the potential side effects of drug-taking.

“There is so much more that goes into the decision to take drugs – power, peer pressure, greed, curiosity and alcohol are all at play.

“What’s interesting is that during the time my friends took drugs you almost had this type of “superman” mentality – you think that it can’t happen to you.

“But then when it happens to your friends your curiosity has either turned into addiction, desire or indifference.

“Drug taking had become a common practice at the majority of events I was attending.

“You don’t need to look hard for them as they can be found in every corner of the capital.” 

The normalisation of drug taking was echoed by another young source working in a high stress industry.

They said: “I was simply looking to do a great job and get paid.

“As I started making more money, more members of staff were warming up to me. 

“At one point I was on a coffee break, and I found out that a colleague of mine was a drug dealer and when I was about to leave that day I was invited to go smoke weed with them.

“You would think they were inviting me to go to dinner – it was all incredibly nonchalant.” 

Early this year, The Home Affairs Committee announced a new inquiry to examine illegal drug use in the UK and its effect on society.

The Government’s approach sets out to tackle the epidemic by breaking drug supply chains, improving treatment and rehabilitation, and reducing demand for drugs.

For those that are dealing with drug addiction you can call the Frank helpline on 0300 123 6600 or find support in your area.

*name changed to protect anonymity

Featured image: Pixabay

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