Drug dogs at festivals increase risk of overdoses

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  Last updated July 19, 2019 at 1:57 pm

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Deploying drug detection dogs at public places, including music festivals, encourages users to adapt their drug consumption and increases risk of overdose.


sniffer dog music festival drug detection

Use of drug detection dogs at music festivals could actually increase the risk of an overdose.


Drug detection dogs are increasingly being used by policing agencies to detect people carrying illicit drugs.


However, a new study has found that the presence of drug detection dogs actually increases the risk of unsafe drug practices as well as having the potential to cause lasting trauma.


Lead researcher Dr Peta Malins, from RMIT University, says the presence of drug detection dogs and police at events such as music festivals did not deter people from consuming drugs, and in fact people reported choosing to take drugs earlier, faster or in higher quantities.


“People told us that when they realised there were dogs and police monitoring event queues they took all their drugs at once to avoid detection.”


People also reported concealing drugs internally or buying drugs from unfamiliar sources once they had passed the police, risking potential health consequences.


Potential for lasting trauma


In addition to the stigma and shame that drug detection dog searches produced, particularly for those from marginalised groups, people who had been strip searched or had a history of trauma reported significant short- and long-term mental health concerns including anxiety and distress.


“The implications of being stopped and searched by police go beyond short-term public humiliation,” says Malins.


“People found the experience highly distressing and reported feeling disempowered and de-humanised.”


Malins says the findings suggest detection dogs are not reducing drug taking at public events and are instead increasing both trauma and the risk of overdose.


“Given that general drug detection dog operations are not working and are instead producing a range of harms including increased risks of overdose, stigma and trauma, they should be immediately discontinued.”


A focus on enhancing and supporting safety


The study suggest that police resources in festival and leisure contexts should be directed away from a focus on drug detection and deterrence, and toward enhancing or supporting patron safety.


The shift would likely not only reduce harm but also improve police-community relations which the research also showed is impaired by current practices.


“The important goal of preventing overdose fatalities in such settings would be far better served by putting resources into evidence-based, non-judgmental and non-threatening harm reduction interventions such as in-situ peer education and pill-testing,” Malins says.


The full study can be found here.


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RMIT University

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