Multi Agency Safety Testing (MAST)
The Loop introduced ‘Multi Agency Safety Testing’ (MAST) to the UK in the summer of 2016. Prior to this, from 2010 onwards, Professor Measham had shadowed academic, police and Home Office scientists who tested drugs on site at festivals primarily for evidential and intelligence purposes. Fiona saw the utility of extending this forensic testing to help reduce drug-related harm on site through the provision of ‘front of house testing’ or ‘drug checking’, as has happened for decades in some European countries. Initially in 2013 the Loop conducted what Fiona termed ‘halfway house’ testing, whereby samples of concern were obtained from agencies on site at festivals and nightclubs and test results were then reported back to all agencies in order to inform service provision and better monitor local drug markets.
The Loop’s drug testing programme was taken a step further in 2016 with the introduction of MAST at the Secret Garden Party and Kendal Calling, with the addition of the general public to this information exchange. MAST is a form of drug safety testing (or ‘drug checking’) whereby individual service users submit samples for analysis and receive their results as part of a confidential, individually tailored harm reduction package delivered by experienced substance misuse practitioners. In contrast with ‘back of house’ testing of police seizures and ‘halfway house’ testing of emergency service samples, the added value of this model of ‘front of house’ testing is that it facilitates a dialogue directly between individual customers and members of the Loop’s harm reduction team, enabling the vital connection to be made between presumed and actual drug contents. Drug safety testing is, therefore, a unique source of information about local drug markets. However, although this was the first time that a drug safety testing service was available in the UK, it was built on evidence from similar services that have been running successfully in the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and Austria for a number of years.
What the festival organisers had to say about MAST
The Loop works closely with police, public health and local authorities to develop its drug safety testing programme and comes on site with the full support of the police. The Loop operates fully within the law at all times and explicitly does not endorse, condone or encourage illegal drug use. The Loop also takes extensive legal advice regarding all aspects of their services to ensure that it operates wholly within the law. Substances of concern are never returned to individual service users. Only a very small sample is required for analysis and users are advised of the size of sample required when dropping off the sample in the test area. Once testing is completed any remnants are disposed of by the police although in effect samples are usually destroyed during the testing and cleaning procedures.