Since time immemorial, escapism via mind-altering substances has been embedded in our culture, and perhaps our nature.
Prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s led to a rise in consumption of moonshine, a beverage so potent it could probably put an actual shine on the moon.
The 1960s provided the yin to this era’s yang. The festival scene it ushered in formed part of a revolution promoting the liberating possibilities of drugs, only to have the good vibes killed, all too literally, along with Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin and a host of other victims.
Lessons were learnt, but efforts to educate users and potential users resulted in some decidedly whack messaging. The 1980s’ ‘Just Say No’ campaign, for example, famously failed because of its patronising, authoritarian reading of the youth’s psyche.
Today, efforts are being made to find the boundaries between personal responsibility and public protection. However, there have been disastrous outcomes from legal, or easier to obtain, alternatives which are often taken naïvely. The designer drug ‘Spice’, and the opioid Fentanyl are examples – addictions to which are at epidemic levels in the US, where a $51m per year War On Drugs is facing a backlash regarding its own effectiveness.
Festivals, with their upbeat music and connection to nature, are conducive to escapism. But there’s a growing acknowledgment of drugs’ inevitability. As the AIF’s Paul Reed says (p22): “If you can get drugs into prisons, you can certainly get them into festivals”.
Recently, I worked on a great campaign, Festival Safe, which provides a one stop shop for practical tips on staying safe and prepared at festivals. Its advice on drugs is refreshingly non-preachy, instead taking a pragmatic stance on the risks.
We’re back then to the unavoidable necessity of education and harm prevention – but this time there’s a greater onus on empathy and acceptance.