Night Lives: Reducing Drug-Related Harm in the Night Time Economy

by Henry Fisher

The UK’s night time economy is failing to protect its most valuable asset: the people who go out and enjoy it.

Night Lives: Reducing Drug-Related Harms in the Night Time Economy, a joint report by The Loop, Volteface, Durham University and The All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform highlights the urgent need for measures to address the increasing harms from club drug use, and advocates for the adoption of a set of bold yet practical initiatives across our towns and cities:

  • Drug safety testing services available to the general public in night life districts;
  • An independent information campaign on reducing drug-related harm;
  • Training for night life staff in how to respond effectively to drug use in the NTE;
  • The adoption of the UK festival drug policy of ‘3Ps: Prevent, Pursue, Protect’ in licensed venues.

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 our night time environments more vulnerable than ever to drug-related harm. 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.

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

The report presents solutions to the perceived barriers to implementation of the initiatives it proposes, 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.

Download the Night Lives PDF here

Read Night Lives online here

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.

To help fund the cost of this growing demand for their services, and maintain it being free to users, they have 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.

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.

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.

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.”

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