Harm reduction at music festivals – it is not a new practice for Europe. However, here, in CEECA region, we are just making first steps towards implementation of such practices in condition of criminalization of drug possession and distribution. This year at one of the small festivals in Lithuania, our team joined the initiative and now we are ready to share a few impressions. “Say know” instead of “say no” to drugs was our motto during the YAGA festival, which took place on August 6-10 in Lithuania.
The participants of the festival, regardless of whether they use psychoactive substances or not, were very interested in any information on how to protect themselves and others in different situations related to the consumption and different sexual practices. What do we need to know to reduce the risk or harm from substance use?
– You need to know what you use. With legal substances, the quality of the product has been tested and licensed by the government. In the case of illegal substances, you can not trust what drug dealers say. Drug testing is a key approach to harm reduction. It would be ideal to analyze the content of different substances in a drug, but so far only a couple of countries in Europe have offered such testing . In the context of the festival, it is possible to carry out reagent tests, when a person can test by himself or herself whether the substance declared by the seller is in a tablet or powder, some tests also make it possible to determine the purity of the substance. After taking several tests, a person will be able to find out if there are any other substances in the tablets.
– You need to know the health risks and consequences of using psychoactive substances in different ways and know remember reduction measures to prevent the risks. EHRA team at the exhibition of harm reduction tools showed visitors what items can help to reduce the health risks of smoking, oral, injected, or rectal use.
– You need to know how to prevent overdose or how to make human life safer in the event of an overdose. And while the use of naloxone is recommended for opioid drugs, there are no such simple overdose prevention methods for stimulants.
What is important is that the team has agreed in advance with the festival organizers, local authorities, the police, and medical services on all harm reduction activities. Any talk about drugs, peer counseling, or a seminar on drugs initially frightens the organizers, as if the conversation itself was propaganda for use. In Lithuania, the Be safe lab project has been running for several years now at the most popular music festivals, in cooperation with the Drug, Tobacco, and alcohol control department and the Coalition “I can live”. Thanks to this project, festival participants have access to information about the harm caused by different substances, especially if they are mixed, and have an opportunity to receive professional medical (psychological and drug treatment) assistance in case of problems. Such partnership facilitated our activity at the festival.
Information about the safe combination of drugs, harm reduction measures for different ways of use, reducing the risk of overdose, and assistance with the unpleasant consequences of drug use (what is called a bad trip, when psychosis, paranoid conditions, etc.) – these topics mostly were in demand among festival participants. It was important that professional help and support in case of problems related to the use of this drug was available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week right at the festival. Our partners from Demetra during the festival provided the opportunity for those wishing to be tested for HIV, as well as free consultations on safe sex and receive condoms and lubricants.
One of popular spots in the festival camp was EHRA’s equipment exhibition “HARM REDUCTION TOOLS”. The wooden stand demonstrated different examples of the tools used to reduce harm was placed with short explanation – for what drug is it used and what health harm it could prevent. Different drug use equipment like smoking kits, snorting kits, booty bumping, tools for oral administration of drugs, injecting equipment, reagents for the drug checking were presented.
In total, around 15-20 different tools from traditional needles and syringes, condoms and lubricants to overdose preventing medication such as nasal naloxone, other tools of safety such as tests for drug checking and gelatine capsules. During several hours per day one of the EHRA volunteers guided festival participants on what was presented on the stand as well as provided with additional explanation on harm reduction approaches and tools used all around the globe and in Lithuania.
Also this year EHRA team organized a seminar “Sex, Drugs and Harm Reduction” to tell festival visitors more about harm reduction, safe use of psychoactive substances and about protection in “chemsex”.
The last but, not least initiative was the distribution of reagent tests for those who wanted to check psychoactive substances. This action was important in term of local approach to the harm reduction as in Lithuania on-site drug checking is not allowed (criminalized).
Harm reduction during music festivals and events, introduction of harm reduction tools for non-injection use into harm reduction programs, integration of substance testing in CEECA countries – all these tasks are faced by EHRA in advocacy. Based on the practical experience of consulting during the festival, the team will act more effectively in future activities.