On the late hours of the 8th of August, the PINS team finally arrived to BOOM land, after one day in the magnificent Porto and one day traveling to our final destination for the next 10 days. BOOM festival is one of the most well-known psytrance music festivals in the world. It takes place every two years at a lake next to Idanha-a-nova (Portugal), gathering around 40.000 people.
This festival is known for having one of the best risk minimization & harm reduction services available nowadays. These include drug checking service by Check!n and Energy Control, drug information by PINS members and Kosmicare which creates safe spaces for “BOOMers” having difficult psychedelic experiences. Portugal’s legislation towards drugs, with a decriminalization approach, made it possible for these health services to take place.
BOOM festival started on Thursday the 11th, so we had two days and half for our planned activities. On the first day we had an official welcoming and after it we built our info stand and chill-out area. In the evening we had free night and we used it to connect all 32 PINS members and other peers from the drug checking service. Next day we had the Kosmicare training, where we learned about trip sitting. On the last training day, before music started at 18.00, we did several trainings in important issues like first aid, CPR, sample collection, new psychoactive substances, drug checking, results communication, working rules & ethics and a final training evaluation.
The schedule was simple: The chill-out area, drug information and harm reduction advice stand were open 24 hours a day for the whole week, but the drug checking laboratory opened at 20:00, so we started collecting samples for the drug checking from 19:00 to 1:00 every day. After the collection, the laboratory gave back the results of each sample in approximately 2 hours, and we had to interpret the results along with all the harm reduction information & materials to the festivalgoers in a one-to-one interaction. There was also a chill-out area under our supervision, where we could provide a great environment for people feeling tired, overwhelmed, hot, dehydrated, etc., to relax and get better. We also used this area to make statistical questionnaires about drug usage and safety approaches, and for more in-depth conversations regarding risk minimization & harm reduction, drug information, etc.
We offered many free materials to support our risk minimization & harm reduction approach: Flyers with information on the different drugs and other night risks, condoms, earplugs, water sprays, fans, clean snorting tubes, nose cleaning liquid, etc. We prepared two new materials especially for BOOM festival: Fans and make-your-own flyers (pocket-sized flyers about different substances visitors could pin together with a book ring). Fans and water sprays were very useful for cooling down, as temperatures at BOOM during the day reached almost 40C!
There were always people in our stand, but by the time we started the sample collection every night at 19:00, the line of people waiting for drug checking was huge! Before providing the sample, they were asked by us to anonymously provide some statistical information for our risk prevention efforts and later service impact evaluation, then they received a ticket to collect their sample results, and later the laboratory performed TLC (thin layer chromatography) and colorimetric reagent tests to provide all the possible qualitative information about their drugs and the adulterants present, to evaluate the potential risks.
After some days running, and some hundred checking results, we started posting some drug alerts and publishing a “general drug trends safety report”. It quickly became an important point of fast information for festivalgoers who stopped there to check if there were new alerts and what substances were find more dangerously adulterated or scammed.
In the meantime, the Kosmicare service of the festival, asked for some support by our PINS members to fulfill the role of “sitters”, and we started supporting them in our free shifts, helping many festivalgoers deal with difficult psychedelic experiences.
By the end of the festival on the 17th of August, we had analyzed a total of 775 samples, most of them where LSD or MDMA, mostly pure but with some examples of scamming and adulteration. Other substances like cocaine and speed were lidocaine scams most of the times.
BOOM has been a successful and amazing experience for all the PINS team, we learned a lot while helping “BOOMers” protect their health and minimize risks and harm in drug consumption, we came back home knowing we did a great (volunteer) job and minimized drug-related issues. It was amazing to see how many drug users decided to change their potentially risky behaviors towards drug consumption or throw away their drugs when they were informed about the presence of dangerous scams or adulteration, substances that they might had taken if we weren’t there to inform them!
Besides that, we all created a very nice team, each member with different experiences, background and personality and yet we worked perfectly together. We also become good friends, who all share a love to harm reduction, music and parties. It could be the start of something bigger and we hope we will all meet again on another festival, or again at BOOM in two years.
All this was possible thanks to all the PINS members and their NGOs, the Check!n Portugal team, PINS project coordinators, the support of BOOM festival and the European financial support through the Erasmus+ program.
Author: Anton Gomez-Escolar (Energy Control, Spain)
Photos: Carl Cyril Dreue (Unity, Netherland)