The results of a pilot drug-testing programme at this year's Electric Picnic music festival have been published by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The scheme involved festivalgoers anonymously surrendering drugs into special bins.

A total of 46 samples were submitted and analysed in real-time at the event.

Key findings:

  • Drug content was identified in a total of 42 samples (91%) as part of pilot
  • Four samples remain unconfirmed
  • 19 MDMA samples were submitted (eight powders and 11 pills)
  • Five MDMA powders tested as almost pure MDMA
  • 'Ecstasy' pills ranged from 36mg to 235mg of MDMA
  • 12 new psychoactive substances submitted were submitted: seven tabs, four powders/crystals and one tablet
  • Three new psychoactive substances identified not previously detected in Ireland (3-CMC, 5-MAPB, 4-HO-MiPT)
  • Three risk communications issued relating to high strength MDMA and the emergence of 3-CMC in white crystals

The project confirms for the first time that high strength MDMA products are appearing in Ireland similar to the rest of Europe.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the HSE's clinical lead of addiction services Professor Eamon Keenan said the drugs were shown to be mainly MDMA, or ecstasy tablets and powders of high strength.

He said that one sample was over twice the normal strength of MDMA, which would have "significant medical risks associated with it".

There was also a new psychoactive substance identified, 3CMC, he said, which has particular mental health problems associated with it.

"We actually thought it was going to be looking at it, we thought that's crystal MDMA, but it wasn't," Prof Keenan said.

"It was a cathinone substance and so we put out the caution about that."

As a result, a warning was circulated to festival attendees through social media, across screens at the event and on the event's app.

"So, they all got a push notification with a picture about the substance with the warning in relation to harm it could cause and we put it up on screens at either side of the stage so that people could have this information," he added.

Prof Keenan said that tactic was effective, as people were much more aware of the dangers of using the drugs.

"I think that once that communication went out to people, there was a conversation happened," he said.

"Everybody saw it, everybody started talking about it. Everybody was aware. And we knew this because we had HSE volunteers at the event who were engaging with people throughout the campsites, and we know that once we sent out the communication that sparked conversations and people realised that these substances could be harmful."

Despite rumours that gardaí would arrest people for depositing the drugs, Prof Keenan said this did not happen, as no officers were not in the tents where the receptacles for the drugs were kept.

Future actions

The report recommends a series of future actions such as engaging with the public to obtain feedback on the pilot and considering how the HSE can further access substances from people who use drugs for health purposes to expand on this approach.

Next year, the HSE intends to look at other festivals and to engage with stakeholders.

Emerging Drug Trends Project Manager, HSE National Social Inclusion Office Nicki Killeen said that results of this pilot help provide an insight to a changing drug landscape in Ireland.

"From a research perspective, it is extremely interesting that we accessed such diversity in the drug samples including very novel compounds. Based on this, it is clear that there is a need to further expand this approach to include more frequent analysis in new settings.

"As the drug market evolves, Ireland must prepare for possible changes and associated health threats with substance analysis having a central role in this process to help us identify concerns and respond at a faster rate to reduce harm."