Boomtown on Drugs: The Harm Reduction Story

Jan 04

Boomtown on Drugs: The Harm Reduction Story

A festival organiser has created a 15-minute documentary discussing the dangers of drugs and openly addressing the issues drugs can cause at the festival, as well as in the broader society.

In addition to enforcing legislation, Boomtown has ‘put their head above the parapet’ and led a major drug awareness and safety drive, implementing a variety of harm reduction, education and awareness measures to inform and safeguard those in attendance.

Lak Mitchell, co-founder and creative director of Boomtown, commented: “It feels like a huge evolution in the festival world, all of a sudden things are stepping up, and we’re progressing… We’d like to use the festival platform to introduce these new harm reduction services and ways of bringing public safety and education towards drugs (to the forefront).”

Along with representatives from Boomtown, the documentary features opinions and experiences from experts and influencers. These include professor Fiona Measham, director of harm reduction drug testing service The Loop, director of Chill Welfare Katy Mcloud, Ed Morrow from Royal Society of Public Health England, as well as musician and key spokesman for Boomtown’s harm reduction campaign, Beans on Toast.

Fiona Measham, The Loop, said: “In the UK drug-related deaths are at their highest rates on record, ever. This isn’t just a problem for Boomtown or just for festivals, this is the situation right across the country.”


However, the most powerful and poignant voices in this open and, on occasion, painfully honest film are that of Ellie Rowe’s family. Ellie Rowe, 18, died at the festival in 2013 after mixing a small amount of alcohol with a small amount of high purity Ketamine. Ellie’s mum, Wendy Teasdill, along with her sisters, Iona and Belinda Rowe and Ellie’s Godmother, Saskia Kent, all returned to give a talk in the festival’s Speakers’ Corner tent for the second year running.

They expressed their support for the services and measures implemented at Boomtown, significantly The Loop’s drug testing and harm reduction intervention service. Wendy Teasdill said: ‘We don’t know what we don’t know; Ellie didn’t know how strong that ketamine was, she didn’t know that the ketamine and the alcohol was a possible lethal combination.”

 Along with the services provided by The Loop, which saw 1,132 service users get their drugs tested for safety, and over 2,000 individuals engaging with the harm reduction intervention, Boomtown also implemented a series of other drug awareness and harm reduction measures, on top of their extensive medical and welfare provisions.

These included:

  • Pre-event awareness and education campaign along with drugs safety fact sheet on the festival website
  • Trained drug workers and welfare staff roaming campsites offering advice.
  • Amnesty areas at the entrance
  • Thorough security searches
  • Support services on site

“People accept that rates of drug use are going up and the approach that we’ve had; that’s for years centred around prohibition, centred around enforcement, is not working in terms of reducing harm,” said Ed Morrow, Royal Society of Public Health England.

The wide-ranging measures put in place to keep drugs out of the festival, as well as to keep people safe and aware, had many positive effects on the festival environment.

Following the harm reduction intervention from The Loop, 44 per cent of customers said they would reduce their dose or discard their drugs and the festival as a whole saw a 25 per cent reduction in drug-related medical incidents.

“Boomtown is committed to spreading awareness and education on the dangers that drug experimentation can pose. This short film sums up all the effort that goes into to keeping people safe and providing them with the tools to make informed and educated decisions,” the festival organiser concluded.

Boomtown on Drugs: The Harm Reduction Story

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