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With a series of suspected MDMA overdoses at an Australian music festival leaving eight people in induced comas, the UK festival industry is once again calling on the Home Office to reverse its move to ban drug testing at events.

The Hardmission Festival at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse on 6 January has not only left the Australian live events industry and the likes of the Australian Lawyers Alliance calling for nationwide drug testing in the country, but has thrust the issue back into sharp focus in the UK.

Medical services supplier Ambulance Victoria said that the suspected overdoses at the Hardmission Festival saw eight people placed in comas with breathing tubes inserted into their throats. Three people are understood to remain in critical condition. The event was promoted by Evolution Events and United Music.

Leading festival promoters and the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) have called on the Home Office to reverse its move last summer to block on-site drug testing at festivals.

The move by Government meant drug testing at LN Gaiety-owned Manchester festival Parklife was unable to take place at the 80,000-capacity event for the first time since 2014.

In a recent podcast interview with Access All Areas, Parklike co-founder Sacha Lord said, “48 hours before Parklife 2023, we got a message from the Home Office to say they were doing a U-turn and there would be no more back-of-house drug testing. It was the most dangerous thing that I’ve ever seen in my career.

“We had been doing drug testing at Parklife for 10 years. It’s not front-of-house testing, so it’s never public facing, we take confiscations on the door. We take the drugs to a secure Portakabin on site, where there are police, and we have scientists that test the drugs. If there’s anything concerning, we will take an image of it and put it on social media with a message to say ‘you need to avoid this at all costs’.”

Lord said he has seen the drug testing scheme save lives, and he is determined Government recognises the potential damage caused by a continued ban at festivals: “Saving lives is so important. Is [drug testing] going to happen this coming season? I really, really. hope so. It saves lives. Even the Home Affairs Committee has agreed with us. Everybody in the industry thinks we should carry on testing. So, we’re still fighting on, we’re not going to give up.”

Association of Independent Festivals CEO John Rostron said the incident at Melbourne’s Hardmission Festival underlines the need for robust, pragmatic policies around drugs at festivals worldwide: “The priority of all promoters across the AIF membership is to mitigate, as much as possible, the number of drugs being smuggled into festivals through various means. At the same time, we continue to advocate for back-of-house testing at festivals and events. This allows for confiscated substances to be tested, which means that festival organisers can quickly and accurately share vital information with medical services, police and audiences during their event. This practice is proven to reduce harm and save lives.”