HSEs Safer Nightlife programme 2024 aims to reduce drug harms this summer

This summer, the HSE’s Safer Nightlife Programme is providing harm reduction outreach teams and ‘back of house’ drug checking at four festivals, with the aim of reducing drug related harms and increasing understanding of current drug trends.

The four festivals include:

  • Mother Pride Block Party on 28 - 29th June
  • District 8 Garden Party on 9th August
  • Electric Picnic on 16 - 18th August
  • District X on 21st September

Professor Eamon Keenan, HSE Clinical Lead, Addiction Services, said: “We have on-going concerns about the health impacts associated with current use patterns, in particular mental health reactions we have observed. Through our work last year, we are aware of adverse physical and mental issues from substances such as MDMA, ketamine and cocaine at events. In addition to this, we are now also concerned regarding vapes, and cannabinoids such as the newly emerged substance HHC, which there is limited information on from a health perspective. Concerningly, we are observing increases in adolescent presentations to addiction services for young people experiencing mental health problems from reported use of this substance.

“Last summer we provided 76 hours of outreach at three events to support festival attendees and following the analysis of 220 surrendered drugs, we identified a number of trends of concern and issued eight risk communications about high strength MDMA, cocaine and ketamine which is an indication of current trends.

“We hope to continue to receive samples across four events this year so we can obtain an accurate view of current drug market trends and support onsite medics through the analysis of substances associated with medical emergencies.”

Minister for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Colm Burke said: “I’m very pleased to see the HSE’s Safer Nightlife programme going from strength to strength as it enters its third year. This initiative, which fulfils a Programme for Government commitment to increase and support drug monitoring services, is among a suite of measures funded by the Department that are improving our ability to recognise and respond to emerging drug trends. Of course, it is always safer not to use drugs but we must protect the health and safety of people who may choose to use them, through effective harm reduction initiatives.

“The impact of the Safer Nightlife programme is clearly evident as it has enabled us to highlight potentially dangerous substances circulating in festival settings. Initiatives like this are saving lives, and I am committed to supporting the work of teams as they continue their valuable work throughout the summer.”

At the launch, Nicki Killeen, HSE Project Manager Emerging Drug Trends, said: “Through our ‘back of house’ drug checking, pills, powders, crystals and some other substances can be analysed in real time, in collaboration between the HSE, Gardaí and festival organisers with an aim to identify trends of concern to inform the public at events. Surrender bins will be available in health-led settings in the Drugs.ie tent and medical tents. We want to remind people that the drugs.ie tent offers a safe space for people to discuss their drug use, get information, and surrender drugs for analysis. If a trend of concern is identified, we will issue alerts via drugs.ie social media, our volunteers and at the event through the festival promoters. Last summer, we found MDMA pills ranging from 50mg to 246mg (twice the average dose), highlighting significant variability in strength and purity despite similar appearances.

“This year, the HSE Safer Nightlife Programme is also expanding and joining forces with agencies from Portugal, Luxembourg, Italy, and Spain to address the intersection of a number of issues such as gender, safety, and substance use in nightlife settings. The Crisscross initiative aims to promote more safer and inclusive nightlife. So far, we have conducted focus groups with professionals and young people who socialise in Dublin nightlife and will begin our training programme for professionals later this week. Through the Safer Nightlife Programme we are launching the Crisscross campaign which will include new resources for our outreach on topics such as being a good bystander in nightlife.”

For more information, visit www.drugs.ie/festivals or follow the conversation @drugsdotie or #HSESaferNightlife.