The Secret Garden Party Music Festival in Cambridgeshire, England, made history last weekend by being the first ever UK festival to provide free drug testing to attendees. Close to 200 festival goers opted to have their substances checked before the event even began.

The Loop, a charity group that provides substance testing to festivals and night clubs, provided the testing for this event to promote drug awareness and safety. A 10-minute health and safety session was agreed upon in advance by local police, public health authorities and the interested attendees. Acceptance of this unique service is a milestone as the health and well-being of individuals is slowly being prioritized over strict adherence to outdated drug laws. You can check out The Loop’s good work for yourself here.

Festival founder Freddie Fellowes fully supported the initiative and was “thrilled” at being able to offer patrons a realistic way to keep themselves and those around them safe. “Harm reduction and welfare is a vital part of hosting any event and it’s an area that for too long has seen little development or advancement” he progressively stated.

Fiona Measham, co-founder of the organisation, explains: “The Loop has been conducting forensic testing at events for a number of years, but before now, we’ve only tested drugs seized by police, dropped in amnesty bins or provided by paramedics as a result of a medical incident. In the past we have been able to use that testing information to inform on-site services and for generalised safety alerts.” She goes on to describe the service as a “big step forward” and adds “This can help people make informed choices, raising awareness of particularly dangerous substances in circulation and reducing the chance of drug-related problems occurring.”

During the first two days highly potent ecstasy pills were discovered, in addition to anti-malaria tablets disguised as ketamine and ammonium sulphate masquerading as MDMA. “Around a quarter of people who brought in their drugs then asked us to dispose of them when they discovered that they had been mis-sold or were duds,” claimed Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation. “We were taking dangerous substances out of circulation.”

He added that while some attendees had been initially wary of the local police involvement, others were used to similar testing facilities provided at music events in Germany and the Netherlands.

Rolles is hopeful that more festivals will “take the plunge” and offer the service at future events. “Until the laws are reformed, testing and encouraging safer drug use is the least we can do. We hope this groundbreaking service becomes the norm for all such events. It is now up to others to follow, to protect the health and safety of their customers. In truth it would be negligent for them not to.”