POPHARS: Drugs at the festivals

POPHARS: Drugs at the festivals: Perceptions of prevention-, harm reduction-, care-, and law enforcement strategies (2018-2021)

Festival attendees have been shown to use illicit drugs, tobacco, and alcohol more commonly than their peers and also new onset of substance use was indicated as a customary phenomenon among festival attendees. Accordingly, on-site health care services are required to tackle a wide range of drug-related harms, such as illnesses, injuries, intoxications and mental health presentations, at higher incidence rates than at other kinds of mass gatherings. To deal with substance use at the festivals, a wide range of prevention, harm reduction, care, and authoritative strategies are usually put into service. However, substance use and its related issues strongly vary between individual festivals, as such complicating the implemented drug related services. Needless to say, the types of associated substances evolve as well, as new - especially synthetic (cf. NPS) - drugs are emerging perpetually.
Strategies to reduce harm from substance use have not always been demonstrated to be effective. Street-level policing (e.g., high visibility policing, riot policing, policing with drug detection dogs, collaborative policing,...), for instance, has been proven insufficient at deterring drug offending at music festivals. Moreover, it has shown to encourage some perverse impacts such as drug consumers opting to buy drugs within festival grounds (main site and/or camping site) rather than bring it to the festival themselves, as such expanding dealing opportunities. In the last decade, peer-to-peer strategies (e.g. Safe 'n Sound, Modus Fiesta) are being employed more frequently, mainly targeted at preventing and reducing excessive and harmful consumption.
However, it still remains to be investigated how this approach is perceived and whether it obtains the intended effects.
Our aim is to obtain a comprehensive understanding of how festival attendees and festival stakeholders perceive drug related interventions implemented at music festivals. The first part of the study focuses on the perceptions of prevention, harm reduction, care, and law enforcement strategies and perceptions of substance use (norms) by festival attendees. Through a innovative real-time method, Experience Sampling Method (ESM), festival attendees will be questioned using a mobile application. Through in-depth interviews more detailed feedback on the results of the ESM study will be obtained by interviewing the respondents who were involved in this particular study. In addition, on-the-spot observations of substance use related interventions will be conducted, to study whether the perceptions of the festival attendees of substance use related measures at music festivals correspond with the substance use related interventions actually present at those festivals.
In the second part of the study, the focus will be put on the perceptions of the implemented drug related interventions and perceptions of drug use (norms) at festivals by stakeholders from prevention, harm reduction, care, and law enforcement strategies. Additionally, other festival stakeholders who have direct contact with festival attendees or who address their focus towards festival attendees will be implemented in this part, such as festival promoters, bouncers, bar- and toilet staff. As research method, in-depth interviews will be used to study this broad target group.
We also intend to identify possible gaps and provide recommendations to bridge the gap between what is presumed and what is actually practiced; create an opportunity to connect and interact with all stakeholders; discover possible gaps between stakeholders’ goals and their actual strategies/policies; and stimulate open and researched-based communication among all stakeholders, as such increasing efficiency on all operational levels.
This project is very practice oriented and the aim is to deliver knowledge and suggestions for prevention and harm reduction workers, caregivers, police forces, festival organizers, local authorities and other festival stakeholders to develop, implement, and/or continue the tailored prevention, harm reduction, care, and authoritative strategies. Moreover a set of policy recommendations will be submitted based on the outcomes of the project.

Promotors: Koen Ponnet, Lieven De Marez, Edith Van Dyck