Police Presence at Music Festivals Linked to “Panic Overdoses”: Study

There’s a rising concern among researchers that substance policing tactics at music festivals are actually causing harm amongst attendees rather than preventing it. 

Researchers at St Vincent’s Clinical School at the University of NSW explored the phenomenon of “panic overdoses” at music festivals—a reactionary behavior that causes attendees to consume high amounts of prohibited substances out of fear of being apprehended by law enforcement.

The Guardian notes that the study began with a sample of 1,229 attendees, 30% of whom admitted their intention to use drugs, or had already done so. The most common drug preference was MDMA.

Roughly half of those who intended to use MDMA (48%) additionally reported resorting to higher-risk consumption behaviors to avoid being caught with the substances. This included consuming multiple doses of the drug prior to entering the festival in question.

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Researchers deduced this high-risk behavior was closely associated with the attendees’ observation of policing at the event. This included patrolling officers, use of drug-sniffing dogs, and searches at entrances. Researchers are reportedly hoping the climate of policing at music festivals can be reformed to mitigate the risk of panic overdoses in the future.

“I really hope we can have a conversation, not about removing police altogether but potentially about a different approach to policing strategies that isn’t just about criminalizing drug users,” University of NSW researcher Dr Jonathan Brett said, per The Guardian. “Everyone wants people to be safer and healthier, so we need to discuss how we can best achieve that.”

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