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Durham University

Research & business

New research suggests measures to tackle club drug deaths

(19 March 2018)

Radical measures are needed to tackle the increase in the number of people being harmed by the use of drugs in clubs, according to a new report involving Durham University.

The joint report  by harm reduction charity The Loop, drug policy think tank Volteface, The All Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform and Durham University advocates the adoption of a set of bold, practical initiatives across towns and cities in the UK:

-Drug safety testing services in night time districts

-An independent information service to reduce drug-related harm

-Drugs awareness training for night time staff

-Adoption of UK festival drug policy of ‘3Ps: Prevent, Pursue, Protect’ in licensed venues

Harm reduction

Drug-related deaths due to ecstasy and cocaine are at their highest since records began and, despite drug usage rates remaining broadly consistent, hospital admissions due to these drugs have risen dramatically in recent years.

A refocusing of national drug policy and resources away from harm reduction has left night time environments more vulnerable than ever to drug-related harm, according to the researchers.

The authors say that licensing fears and landmark closures have left venues obliged to harden their ‘zero tolerance’ rhetoric towards drugs, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with the unavoidable realities of drug use. 

Burden on police and health services

The report outlines how the resulting economic, social and cultural damage to the night time economies is substantial, increasing the burden on police and health services, and threatening the closure of licenced venues, along with the jobs and revenue they provide.

Report co-author Professor Fiona Measham, Director of The Loop and Professor of Criminology at Durham University said: “UK night life makes a vital contribution to our economic and cultural life yet we have reached an impasse. Clubs risk closure if there is a drug-related death but they also risk closure if they attempt to introduce harm reduction measures.

“By contrast, UK festivals have been introducing evidence-based and effective measures to address the growing drug-related problems faced in the UK, including hospitalisations, deaths and contaminated supply chains. Drawing on festival drug policy and practice, this report makes key recommendations to bolster our night time economy and to protect the customers and venues within them.”

Partnership working

Solutions to the perceived barriers to implementation of the initiatives are suggested, including addressing licensing concerns through communicating a greater understanding of the positive wider impact of these initiatives on security staff, police and health services, and introducing initiatives using a partnership approach, as advocated in the Night Time Economy Strategies of many towns and cities.

The study is aimed at the night time industry, local authorities, police forces and public health and is based on in-depth interviews with over 50 key stakeholders.

Outdated licensing laws

Report co-author Dr Henry Fisher, Health and Science Policy Director at Volteface said: “While the UK’s drug market has rapidly evolved in recent years, measures taken to address harms have failed to keep pace and, as a result, our young people, public services, and much-loved venues are bearing the brunt of this failure. Everyone we spoke to for the report agrees more needs to be done to reduce drug harms. This report provides innovative solutions to tackle them, such as drug safety testing services. It is now up to councils, clubs and police to work together to implement them.”

Jeff Smith MP, Co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform said: “Night-time venues are at the centre of British music culture - making our cities exciting and vibrant places to live while contributing over £66 billion to the UK economy.

“Keeping people safe requires more than zero-tolerance rhetoric around drugs and out-dated licensing laws. This report offers credible and tested solutions to help protect people attending events. I hope that venues, local authorities, and the Government will work together to make these recommendations a reality.”

Drug safety testing

The Loop is in advanced discussions with authorities in several UK locations to deliver drug safety testing to town and city centres in the near future and will be offering forensic testing by chemists and brief interventions by healthcare professionals at an increased number of UK festivals this summer.

Karen Tyrell, Executive Director of External Affairs at Addaction  said: “Drug related deaths are twice as high as deaths from road traffic accidents – we must take bold steps to tackle it now. Drug safety testing is one important step to tackle this complex problem. Drug trends are always changing.

“At Addaction, we are seeing a wider variety of substances being used, with people often taking a combination of drugs at the same time. It’s hugely important that people have as much information as possible about what they are taking, so that they can make more informed decisions about their own health and wellbeing. That’s why this kind of service should be made widely available across our towns and cities.”

To help fund the cost of the growing demand for the services, and maintain it being free to users, The Loop has launched a crowd funding campaign, allowing supporters to make a practical contribution towards their work. The money raised will be used to help support five regional testing hubs. For more information and to make a donation go to 


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