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Super-strong drugs and pent-up demand will fuel 'summer of chaos' at festivals, expert warns

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·3-min read
LEEDS, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24:  Matthew Murphy, Tord Øverland Knudsen and Dan Haggis of The Wombats perform on stage during Leeds Festival 2019 at Bramham Park on August 24, 2019 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Katja Ogrin/Redferns)
Crowds are set to return to music festivals in summer but experts are warning of drug deaths. (Getty)

Experts have warned of potential mental health issues and deaths as stronger drugs and lower intolerances combine when music festivals return this summer.

With the planned ending of all COVID restrictions on 21 June, some festivals have already announced that they will welcome crowds back for a summer of partying this year.

However, a criminology professor has told MPs that months of pent-up desire to party, stronger drugs and reduced tolerance from not taking them during lockdown could cause a “summer of chaos”.

Speaking to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Fiona Measham – who is also a director of Loop, which provides free drug testing at festivals – said hedonism at this year's events was a “particular concern”.

People waving flags and holding flares, and general atmosphere of the Reading Festival 2017 are pictured at Reading, on August 27, 2017. The Reading and Leeds Festivals are a pair of annual rock music festivals that take place in Reading and Leeds in England. The events take place simultaneously on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend, sharing the same bill. (Photo by Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The organisers of the Reading and Leeds festival have already announced that it will go ahead this year. (Getty)

She told MPs: “For this summer in particular we are concerned.

“There is a pent-up demand for partying and a lower tolerance for drugs, which will be combined with higher-strength drugs.

“People have not been in crowds for over a year and we are concerned about the additional anxiety and mental issues. And imagine if they have taken psychedelics on top of that.”

Watch: Boris Johnson 'very optimistic' COVID restrictions will end on 21 June

Measham said a new, powerful ecstasy tablet had been identified in Switzerland, which had “the highest strength ever recorded, over 250mg of MDMA, which is probably four times an adult dose”.

In normal years, Loop is able to test drugs in circulation from May and can report any that are particularly concerning to the authorities.

However, festival season will start later this year because of COVID restrictions, and uncertainty about concrete dates means the ability to potentially prevent hospitalisations and deaths from dangerous drugs could be inhibited.

She said the delays to the festival season make it feel “like we’re going to be fighting with one arm behind our back”.

Measham said 50% of people at festivals take drugs, compared with 33% in nightclubs.

Ecstasy tablets on black background
A new, powerful ecstasy tablet had been identified in Switzerland. (Getty/stock photo)

Also speaking at the committee, assistant chief constable Justin Bibby of Staffordshire police said there may be an increase in drug-taking behaviour, because people have “been inside for a long time”.

He added: “My view would be that it will certainly be a period of time to see increased risky behaviour and perhaps some of the things we faced in the past may well be exaggerated.”

GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 30: The crowd watch Miley Cyrus performs on the Pyramid stage during day five of Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton on June 30, 2019 in Glastonbury, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Professor Fiona Measham said 50% of people at festivals take drugs. (Getty)

Responding to the evidence, committee chair Julian Knight MP said he had “grave concerns” and would be “raising the alarm” with the government about the potential risks of festival season.

He added: “The uncertainty surrounding if and when festivals take place, a huge pent-up demand from the public, combined with a ready supply of high-risk drugs risks spelling disaster this summer.”

Watch: How England will leave lockdown