Drug checking services have long-term influence on behaviour

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Using drug checking services at festivals can permanently influence behaviour, according to a new study by the University of Liverpool.

The Loop
The Loop provides drug safety testing, welfare and harm reduction services at nightclubs, festivals and other leisure events.

The study looked at almost 1,500 face-to-face brief interventions from three music festivals in England in 2017 before carrying out an anonymous follow-up survey three months later. 

Of the 130 people who completed the follow-up questionnaire – the first of its kind – 92 per cent said that using the service had had an impact on their subsequent drug-taking behaviour, with the same proportion ‘strongly’ agreeing that they would use a similar service again and recommend their friends do the same. More than 40 per cent also said they’d continued to talk to friends about drug contents, with 38 per cent saying they’d sought out more information about drugs. 

More than a quarter of respondents also reported that they’d now be less likely to buy drugs from strangers, while a third said they’d become more cautious about using multiple drugs. Around 20 per cent said they’d continued to take smaller doses since the intervention, with 15 per cent not taking any drugs at all in the three months after the festival. 

Of the substances submitted for testing across the three festivals, almost 80 per cent were ‘identified as expected’ while just under 11 per cent were ‘substances other than those the subject thought they had been sold or given’. More than half of these were then either handed over for destruction or discarded.

‘Whilst relatively small, this follow-up study demonstrates the potential value of post-intervention surveys in examining outcomes that would not otherwise be identified on-site,’ said study lead Professor Fiona Measham. ‘Ongoing harm reduction practices that were attributed to engaging with the service included increased caution towards polydrug use, reduced dosage, and increased information-seeking and communication around drug use. This is particularly important given that just 3.6 per cent of those engaged said they had spoken previously with health professionals about their alcohol or other drug use.’

Meanwhile, a new YouGov poll has identified that the vast majority of people support the government’s plans to introduce nutritional labelling for alcohol products (DDN, September 2020, page 4). Three quarters wanted unit information included on labels, almost two thirds wanted to see calorie information and more than half wanted to see sugar content included. The survey coincides with an open letter to the health secretary from almost 100 health organisations calling for improved alcohol labelling ahead of the government’s planned consultation.  

‘People both want and deserve to know what is in their drinks,’ said Alcohol Health Alliance chair Professor Sir Ian Gilmore. ‘We already empower consumers to make decisions about their health by displaying nutritional information on food and soft drink labels, so why should alcohol – a product linked to 80 deaths a day – continue to be exempt?’

Intentions, actions and outcomes: A follow-up survey on harm reduction practices after using an English festival drug checking service, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy here.