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Allowing the use of drug-testing facilities at music festivals should be a no-brainer

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drug-testing facilities at music festivals

Many experts believe that some drugs which are currently illegal in most countries are on balance far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. Whether or not substances such as ecstasy, cannabis or LSD are safer than vices most western nations have deemed permissible is open to debate, but it is hard to argue against the fact that a great deal of the harm caused by illicit narcotics comes about as a result of the unregulated nature of the criminal markets on which they are sold. As has been the case for generations, drug users can never be truly sure what is in the substances they buy, regardless of how well they know and trust their supplier. While this has always been the case, the problem has been brought into sharp focus over recent years as drug producers have sought to outdo their rivals by making their products more potent than anything else on the market.

Illegal drugs have historically been cut with all manner of unpleasant ingredients, but evidence now suggests criminal gangs are seeking to set their products apart by making them as strong as possible, be that by adding greater quantities of MDMA to ecstasy tablets, or cutting batches of heroin with deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl. Meanwhile, less scrupulous drug producers continue to pass off products that bear little resemblance to what they claim they are, such as ecstasy pills that contain pentylone instead of MDMA. Caring little for the welfare of the people who end up taking the drugs they make, the criminal gangs behind the illicit narcotics trade have one motive; to make as much money as possible. As such, and in light of the fact that the legalisation of most outlawed drugs looks to be a very long way off in most countries, lawmakers and others should focus their energies on harm reduction.

One of the best ways of keeping drug users safe from harm is to empower them with the means to discover what is really in the substances they are planning to consume, and how strong they might be. This is what makes drug-testing stations at music festivals and nightclubs such a good idea. A number of major festivals, such as Groovin the Moo in Australia and Bestival in the UK, have adopted the concept, allowing drug testers onto their sites to anonymously analyse the composition of narcotics festival-goers are planning to take. Users can then make an informed decision as to whether they should consume their drugs or not. Testing carried out at a festival in the UK city of Bristol recently revealed ecstasy pills that were up to four times stronger than regular tablets. At the very least, arming drug users with information such as this gives them the opportunity to take smaller doses.

Despite the potential for drug-testing facilities at festivals to save lives, some are less than enthusiastic about the idea. Festival Republic surprised campaigners this month by announcing that it will not be allowing drug testers on site at its UK events this year, despite having applied to the British government for a licence that would have allowed it to do so. It has been speculated that the company’s licence application was most likely turned down, prompting it to make a business decision not to go ahead with testing. Doing so could leave it open to prosecution should any harm come to drug users who had their illegal substances tested. Other festival organisers in the UK that choose to go ahead with allowing drug-testing facilities at their events do so without a licence from authorities. The British government’s current position is that “no illegal drug can be assumed to be safe and there is no safe way to take them”. Commenting on the drug-testing service offered at Australia’s Groovin the Moo festival this year, the country’s Shadow Attorney General Jeremy Hanson claimed the decision to allow it to go ahead would encourage drug use.

It has become clear over the years that a zero-tolerance approach to drug use at nightclubs and music festivals simply does not work. If young people want to take drugs, they will more often than not find a way in which to do so. It is for this reason that allowing drug-testing facilities at festivals should be a no-brainer, particularly in the absence of sensible drug policies that would take the production of narcotics out of the hands of criminals who care little as to whether the end consumer of their products live or die. Only last month, two young people lost their lives after taking “dangerous high-strength or bad-batch” ecstasy pills at Portsmouth’s Mutiny Festival. If they had been able to have the tablets they were about to take tested, there is a chance they might still be alive today. Event organisers should not have to put themselves at risk of prosecution by allowing drug-testing facilities on site without the approval of the authorities. All the while legislators refuse to implement drug policies that could greatly reduce the harm caused by narcotics, the least they should do is sanction the use of drug-testing facilities at festivals and nightclubs that really could save lives.

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Interpol-coordinated operation results in shutdown of international dark web paedophile ring

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international dark web paedophile ring

A two-year Interpol-led investigation into an international paedophile network has resulted in the rescue of 50 suspected child abuse victims, as well as the arrest and prosecution of multiple sex offenders in Australia, Thailand and the US, the international law enforcement agency has announced.

Interpol said that it expects more suspects to be detained and charged as police in approaching 60 nations proceed with investigations launched as a result of evidence gathered during the operation, which targeted a hidden dark web paedophile platform with some 63,000 users across the globe.

Operation Blackwrist, which is said to have been named after a bracelet worn by one of the suspected offenders detained during the probe, was launched after Interpol found child sexual exploitation material that was traced back to a subscription-based site on the dark web.

Interpol said the content depicted the abuse of 11 boys, all of whom were aged under 13.

The website published new indecent images every week over the course of a number of years, during which time its administrator took great care to avoid identification, even going so far as to mask the children that were abused in the material he posted online.

Investigators from Interpol sought help from international law enforcement agencies after using the physical characteristics of the children who appeared in the content posted on the website to track their abuse.

The first victims were identified back in November 2017, leading to the detention of numerous suspets linked to the website two months later in Australia and Thailand, where the website’s main administrator was identified as Montri Salangam.

Interpol said Salangam was the man seen abusing the 11 boys that featured in the content that initially alerted the agency to the website.

The children, who included the man’s nephew, had been lured to Salangam’s home with meals, internet access and football games.

Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock commented: “Operation Blackwrist sends a clear message to those abusing children, producing child sexual exploitation material and sharing the images online: We see you, and you will be brought to justice.”

“Every child abuse image is evidence of a crime and Interpol will always provide its full support to officers on the ground to help identify and rescue victims around the world.”

Separately, the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service yesterday revealed that a paedophile deputy headteacher of a school in London had been jailed for 28 months after being found guilty of live-streaming children being sexually abused while he was high on cocaine and methamphetamine.

Paul Newbury, 50, was caught when undercover police officers infiltrated the chat rooms he was using, and filmed him sitting naked on his sofa smoking drugs as he watched a live video of a girl aged around eight being abused.

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Scotland is drug death capital of Europe, new study reveals

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Scotland is drug death capital of Europe

Scotland has the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe, and fatalities linked to the consumption of substances such as heron in the country are on the rise, according to a new report from a government agency.

A statistical update from Audit Scotland on the nation’s drug and alcohol services has revealed that drug-related deaths rose to 934 in 2017, a 71% increase on the 525 people who lost their lives as a consequence of drug consumption in 2009.

Seventy-six percent of those deaths occurred in the 35 years and over age group, suggesting that drug problems are increasingly affecting older people in Scotland.

The most significant increase in drug-related deaths in this age category was recorded in people aged 45 and over, who accounted for 37% of fatalities in 2017, up from 20% of the total in 2009.

According to the update, opioids are the most problematic group of drugs, and are implicated in the majority of drug-related deaths in the country.

The study also found that while use of new psychoactive substances such as the synthetic cannabinoid Spice has declined in the general population since the introduction of the UK government’s Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, these types of drugs are still causing significant harm among vulnerable groups such as prisoners.

Commenting on the findings outlined in the update, Auditor General for Scotland Caroline Gardner said: “The last decade has seen several notable achievements in drug and alcohol treatment in Scotland, including more recovery communities, improved drug harm reduction strategies and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

“But without clear performance data around what measures are working, the government will continue to find it hard to achieve its aim of reducing deaths and better supporting people to recover.”

Earlier this week, the Press Association reported that former addicts had told UK Parliament’s Commons Scottish Affairs Committee that providing users of drugs such as heroin with replacement treatments such as methadone is leaving them wandering around “like zombies”.

Former heroin addict Sharon Brand, who now runs the Recovery Dundee charity, told the committee: “There’s people who have been on methadone since they were 15, 30 years now, there’s two generations in each family who are either on methadone or a chaotic user.

“I’ve not got a great opinion of methadone. I think done right, for a very short period, it could work but I think there are a lot more and better ways to help somebody get past that stage.”

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European police forces dismantle major organised crime network that made €680 million in two years

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crime network that made €680 million

A Europol-coordinated operation involving law enforcement agencies from the UK, Spain, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia has resulted in the break-up of a sophisticated organised criminal network that is thought to have raked in hundreds of millions of euros over a two-year period.

The gang, which is said to have been made of Lithuanian nationals and members from other EU countries, made huge profits from activities including drug smuggling, cigarette trafficking, assassinations and money laundering.

Police taking part in the operation, which was codenamed Icebreaker, and is reported to have been the largest of its kind to take place in Europe to date, carried out raids on 40 properties in Poland, Lithuania and Spain, during which €8 million ($8.94 million) in cash was seized, along with high-value items including diamonds, gold bars, jewellery and luxury vehicles.

During the raids, which were conducted on Wednesday and Thursday last week, a total of 22 suspects were arrested in the UK, Poland, Lithuania and Spain, where a 48-year-old Lithuanian man was detained on suspicion of leading the network.

Investigators estimate that the gang made a profit of some €680 million as a result of its illicit activities between 2017 and 2019 alone, during which time its members are suspected to have trafficked large quantities of drugs and illicit tobacco into Britain.

The proceeds of the network’s criminal activity was laundered through currency exchange offices before being invested in properties in Spain and other countries.

According to Europol, senior members of the gang used counter-surveillance and counter-intelligence techniques, as well as specialised encrypted communication devices, in a bid to avoid the attention of law enforcement authorities.

In total, more than 450 police and customs officers took part in Operation Icebreaker, with agencies contributing to the effort including Lithuania’s Criminal Police Bureau, the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, the Polish Police Central Bureau of Investigation, and Spain’s Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional.

In a statement, Europol said: “The creation of an Operational Task Force between all five countries and Europol in November 2018 had a catalytic effect on the scale and the intensity of the investigation, facilitating the development of a joint strategy to target the whole network. It led to carrying out one of the largest covert police operations recently against an organized crime group.

“Due to the demanding investigative measures run on an international level, Joint Investigation Teams (JIT) were set up between the cooperating countries with the assistance of Eurojust.”

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