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Lauren Frayer

Making Sure Ecstasy Is Ecstasy: Volunteers Test Drugs At U.K. Music Fests


With drug related deaths capturing headlines across the world, volunteers are helping to reduce harm by educating festival goers about what they're really consuming.

This article originally appeared on NPR

In a muddy field in northern England's Lake District, more than 20,000 people are camping out at a four-day outdoor music festival called Kendal Calling. They jam along with their favorite bands. Some people wear outlandish costumes: There are superheroes, Indian chiefs and a naked guy wearing only transparent plastic wrap. There's dancing, drinking and occasionally, some illicit drug use.

It's a typical scene at summertime music festivals across Europe. But in England this summer, for the first time, revelers can have their illegal drugs tested before they take them. It's part of a new project to prevent overdoses.

"I've been doing festivals for three to four years now. I like my Ecstasy pills," says Rio Brown, 29, from Manchester, England. "If I want to chill out, I have my weed. If I want to party, I'll have some cocaine or a pill or whatever."

Brown just bought a bag of Ecstasy pills from a dealer who somehow smuggled them past the police and sniffer dogs at the festival gate. Ecstasy is the same psychoactive drug a teenager suffered a fatal overdose from at this same festival last year. That has Brown concerned.

So he and his friends take their baggie of drugs over to a festival tent labeled The Loop. It's a nonprofit that conducts forensic testing of drugs, and it's set up shop at U.K. music festivals for the first time this summer.

"[It's] just to make sure we're getting the right thing, really, to make sure it's not harmful," Brown explains. "We don't want to kill ourselves, you know what I mean?"

(Photo courtesy of Lauren Frayer for NPR)

Brown breaks off a fragment of one of his Ecstasy pills and hands it to Chris Brady, who works full time as a drug counselor and educator for Britain's public National Health Service and volunteers on weekends with The Loop.

"We're very realistic that people do take drugs, and what we want is to keep people safe," Brady says. "We don't want any mothers getting a call at 4 in the morning, saying that their son or daughter is ill, or even worse."


Read the full story by Lauren Frayer at NPR

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