Making Sure Ecstasy Is Ecstasy: Volunteers Test Drugs At U.K. Music Fests : Parallels This summer, the first stop for many U.K. partiers will be a special tent where, without fear of arrest, they can get their illegal drugs tested for potency and makeup to prevent overdoses.
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Making Sure Ecstasy Is Ecstasy: Volunteers Test Drugs At U.K. Music Fests

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Making Sure Ecstasy Is Ecstasy: Volunteers Test Drugs At U.K. Music Fests

Making Sure Ecstasy Is Ecstasy: Volunteers Test Drugs At U.K. Music Fests

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In England, for the first time, there are special tents at some music festivals this summer to test drugs. Concertgoers can learn what's in the drugs they're thinking about taking. Lauren Frayer has our report.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Twenty-thousand people are camping out in this muddy field in England's Lake District for a four-day music festival called Kendal Calling. Some come in superhero costumes. There's a naked guy wearing transparent plastic wrap. I suspect some of these revelers are on something, and Rio Brown from Manchester wants to join them.

RIO BROWN: I've been doing festivals for about three, four years now. And I like my Ecstasy pills - anything really. If I want to chill out, I have my weed. If I want to party, I'll have some coke or a pill or whatever, you know what I mean?

FRAYER: He just bought a bag of Ecstasy pills from a dealer who somehow smuggled them past the police and sniffer dogs at the festival gate. Ecstasy is the same psychoactive drug a teenager suffered a fatal overdose from at this same festival last year. Rio now has the option of getting his drugs tested before he takes them.

BROWN: Just to make sure we're getting the right thing, really, so we're - just to make sure it's not harmful. We don't want to kill ourselves, you know what I mean?

FRAYER: He breaks off a fragment of one of his Ecstasy pills and hands it to Chris Brady, a volunteer with The Loop, a non-profit anti-drug group that set up its own tent at this festival.

CHRIS BRADY: We're very realistic that people do take drugs, and what we want to do is keep people safe. We don't want any mothers getting a call at 4 in the morning saying that their son or their daughter is ill or even worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Come and see the den.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah, the drugs den.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The little lab rats are working away.

FRAYER: In a tiny trailer, volunteers do chemistry tests on pink and purple pills that look like children's vitamins. It takes only about 15 minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And so I'm going to weigh it on here.

FRAYER: The woman behind all of this is Fiona Measham, a professor of criminology and a drug policy adviser to the British government. She convinced police of the benefits of looking the other way so that drug users can avoid being poisoned or suffering an overdose.

FIONA MEASHAM: They give us one pill or a small scoop of powder, and they won't get that back. Normally the substance is destroyed in the testing process, so there isn't really anything left in our possession.

FRAYER: That's how they get around drug possession laws. In the U.S., similar groups give out self-testing drug kits. Today Fiona has been testing for MDMA, the active ingredient in Ecstasy and another popular drug called Molly.

MEASHAM: We had some Ecstasy tablets that were about 20, 25 milligrams of MDMA right up to 250 milligrams of MDMA. So you've got a ten times range. If people had two of the lowest strength, they probably would barely feel the effects. If they had two of the highest strength, that could potentially kill them.

FRAYER: Among hundreds of samples tested, she's also found ground-up cement, anti-malaria medication and pesticides sold as party drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: ...In no way facilitate, condone or condemn any drug usage.

FRAYER: Behind a curtain, a drug counselor sits with Rio Brown to explain what his Ecstasy pills really contain.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Well, I've got your results for you. So it does contain a lot of what we call filler.

FRAYER: Turns out Rio overpaid for drugs diluted with cellulose and chalk, harmless fillers. He decides to go ahead and take his pills, but about a quarter of people who use this service decide to dump their stash in the end. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Penrith, England.

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