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We all want people to enjoy events and leave with great memories. Some people may choose to use drugs to enhance their experience of your event, and it’s likely that drugs will be present regardless of how strong your front-gate processes are. 

You might have an overall aim, such as “reduce harm from drugs” or “prevent drug-related incidents”, along with some more specific goals that are measurable. 

The ultimate aim is to reduce harm associated with drug use. To be specific – to make sure there are no deaths, reduce the number of hospitalisations, reduce the number of intoxications, and reduce the number of people who are visiting the medics due to drug-related problems.

- Wendy Allison, Managing Director of KnowYourStuffNZ

Some examples of specific goals from other events are: 

  • Reduce the presence of drugs at the event.
  • Reduce the use of drugs before or at the event.
  • Minimise the number of incidents caused by drug use.
  • Identify problems early and prevent them from escalating.
  • Minimise the number of incidents in camping areas.
  • Reduce the number of incidents as people leave the event.

An event should aim for no harm. The focus of an event will always be engagement and having people come back next time, but zero harm or working to reduce harm is a good goal.

- Andy Gollings, CEO of Red Badge Group

A harm reduction approach at events is about using ‘Our Experience Creating a Safe Experience for You’. Drug checking at events involves the experience of multiple agencies and service providers working collaboratively towards a safe event environment.

- Ashley Quensell, EVANZ Board Member, General Manager of National Operations at P4G.

Here are some things to consider while deciding what you are trying to achieve with this plan: 

This will be a question you'll revisit as you work through the following sections. Considering the questions as a team will help to identify blind spots and ensure that you have the right event resourcing in the right places.

Encourage your team to ask questions to ensure that you have a good risk-resource balance across your event.  You should also check for any unintended consequences.

Consider the location, time of year, and who is likely to attend your event.

Adam Lynch from Reliance Risk suggests using these questions to help determine the risk profile of your event.

  • Music
    Does the artist risk assessment highlight the need for drug management amongst your patrons (eg, do they or their lyrics refer to drugs and encourage drug taking)? Is the genre one that requires a high energy level of extended periods of time, where drug taking might be an attractive option (i.e. long duration rave events)?
  • Age
    What is the typical age of the expected patrons? What type of drugs may they be inclined to take and what would their previous experience of drugs be? Is this demographic likely to try drugs after consuming alcohol?
  • Location patrons come from
    If available, request a postcode report from the ticketing company. This should highlight where the crowd is coming from. Look at trends in different areas and talk with local people to see if that may give you an indication of what you might see at your event.
  • Gender split
    What is the typical gender split for the crowd? If it is heavily male (i.e. a rock show) risks are high around intoxication and crowd disturbances/fights but may be lower for drugs. If heavily female, risks might be more associated with crowd pushing, dehydration, intoxication and issues at the barrier.
  • History – onsite
    Has this artist or event been held at the venues before. What were the issues that arose from that event and has mitigations / controls been put in place to prevent re-occurrence this time round.
    If there are similar artists or the same genre and crowd profile, what lessons can be learnt from those other events?
  • History – other venues
    Talk to other venues who may have hosted the same or similar events in the past. What lessons can they provide?
  • Duration
    Long events may require patrons to exhibit additional stamina, which may encourage trying a drug to achieve this. Short events may encourage trying drugs for a quick reaction that may be harder to come by from alcohol.
  • Activity Level
    Events that require a high level of activity from patrons (i.e. dance parties) may lead to high levels of drug taking.

 

The most important thing is that, at the front end, someone works through the event profile - that is number one.

If the event is high risk, you need to make sure you are investing resources and energy in this. It needs to sit with a dedicated person to make sure that that happens. The other area, 100 percent, is around communication, with your partners and stakeholders, and your communication with the public. You’ve gotta have a balance between having rules and then encouraging people to look after [each other]. That pre- event comms piece is really important.
- Brendan Hines, General Manager of Spark Arena

Resourcing could include: 

  • Point of entry services, such as security, bag checks, and medical care for people who have taken too much of a drug before they get in the gate.
  • Drug checking services.
  • Ambulance and other medical care.
  • Crowd management.
  • Patron welfare services, including places to go and people to talk to if someone is feeling distressed
  • Options for attendees to moderate the effects they may experience from drug use such as water, food and shelter/cool down areas.
  • Safe ways for people to get to and from the venue.

Also consider whether you can respond easily if incidents occur. This is more difficult if the event is large and has areas that are difficult to monitor or for medical teams to get to.

Consider how close hospitals are and how people would need to be transported there (eg, helicopter or ambulance) and whether there is sufficient cellphone or radio coverage for good communication. 

From our point of view, for a very long time venues have been focused on welfare rather than compliance...There is only so much we can do [that is] preventative and we need to focus some of our efforts on mitigating harm.

- Brendan Hines, General Manager - Spark Arena

Consider what you might like to do the same or differently from previous events. You might like to speak to other event organisers to give you an indication of what you might see at your event. 

It’s really important to have an event log function that records and captures as much information and occurrences as possible. Being able to refer back to this event record, or share this intel with other event organisers, helps build a shared knowledge base that will assist you in identifying what works, what needs to be changed, and what to change it to.

     -Ashley Quensell, EVANZ Board Member, General Manager of National Operations at P4G.

One of the key drivers for St John Event Health Services to reduce drug harm at events came a few years ago. We provided medical cover at a large-scale dance party, one of the biggest we had ever seen. From the moment people were filing through the gates you could already see a lot of them were impaired by drugs. The event ended up presenting a significant number of serious patients who were all affected by a ‘bad batch of MDMA’. In hindsight, it was likely eutylone. We were caught somewhat unaware as there was not a robust risk assessment completed prior to the event that was shared between all stakeholders, and as a result, our medical resource on the ground was significantly stretched. The learning for our team was to strongly advocate for open discussions relating to drug and alcohol harm, and to stand our ground on the minimum level of medical resourcing to run a safe event.  

- Glen Hoult, Event Risk and Specialist Team Manager, St John

Talking with your stakeholders about this plan will help you to develop an approach that you all agree on. This may be an ongoing process – often all stakeholders will agree that you should prevent problems from drugs at the event, but they might have different opinions on how to do that. 

If it’s helpful, share our explanation of why a harm reduction approach makes sense. 

The policy part is really important. It's important to understand stakeholders and understand their thinking - you have to carry them with you. You can't leave them behind.

- Mark Gosling, EVANZ Chairman, CEO of Trusts Arena

You might want to speak to:  

  • The people who own the land or venue.
  • Medical services who will be at your event, and local medical services if you will be relying on them.
  • Mental health support who could provide chill spaces or respond to people who are agitated or distressed.
  • Drug checking services.
  • MCs or others who might help to share advice on how to prevent or reduce problems.
  • Security services.
  • Police and LandSAR (Land Search and Rescue).
  • Local council.  
  • Organisations who work to reduce drug harm (NZ Drug Foundation, Ministry of Health, High Alert).

Smaller events have less resourcing to bring in services and often have staff working across multiple roles. You can also look at the Drugs in Bars guide for more information. 

Here are some things you might like to consider:

  • How might you upskill staff and other services so they know how to prevent and respond to problems?  
  • What policy is needed for screening and responding to drug incidents?
  • What services cannot be provided because of the smaller scale? How can this be managed?

These resources have been created for event organisers, by event organisers. They were commissioned by Te Whatu Ora, and the NZ Drug Foundation helped the working group share their expertise. Much thanks and appreciation to those who've contributed.