Recreational use of drugs in nightlife settings is a common feature among European cities but only in some of them are developed targeted responses to reduce the related risks. These responses have been initiated in the 90s by peer projects emerging from the party scenes. A range of tools
are used to increase the party goers awareness on the risks they take and to promote a safer environment: drug information leaflets, chill out, drug-checking, websites, safer dance guidelines, charters and labels. The most efficient responses are based on local and integrated partnerships
involving the concerned stakeholders (peer projects,prevention agencies, club owners, party organizers, police and local authorities).
At the European level, with the support from EU funding programmers, city and NGO networks have carried out practice sharing projects on safer nightlife issues and nowadays, useful guidelines are available to support local initiatives.Municipalities should take profit of these European exchanges in order to support, coordinate and promote safer nightlife projects in their cities.
Throughout Europe, legal and illegal drug use has become a consistent feature of nightlife and a complex issue to attend. The use of cocaine is increasing in most European countries, the interrelated consumption of psychoactive substances, which include both alcohol and tobacco,
the emergence of new substances and new trends complicate both our understanding and response. The cultural changes taking place in our society indicate the relevance of developing new strategies related with the
nightlife activities and the public who use them. As people attempt to gain a new balance between “work” and “free time” this work becomes more important for our societies.It’s not clear if the youth have more free time than adults but they certainly reclaim it more and the night venues are
now important spaces were the youth of today form their identity. These are not spaces of marginality but spaces of integration were nightlife “consumers” escape from their routine, meet new people, try new experiences and also assume new risks such as drug taking. Bars, Clubs and
clubbers, community organizations and service providers, local and national politicians in every European country are concerned to respond to this issue realistically and positively.
Unfortunately, if young people have fun and take risks in all European cities, there is no intervention to respond the recreational use of drugs and alcohol in the most part of them. This is a big challenge for the municipalities which have a key role to assume in terms of initiating, supporting,coordinating and promoting the potential responses of the
Situation of drug use in nightlife settings in the EU Although recreational drug use among the general population is low, use among people in nightlife settings is much higher. However, trends vary greatly across the
EU. For example, lifetime use of ‘ecstasy’ in the general young adult population (15–34) range from less than 1% in Greece to 12 % in the UK. Use is highest among men aged 20 to 30 years. Surveys carried out in nightlife settings have shown lifetime prevalence for ecstasy as high as 22
% in Athens and 85 % in London.
Rough calculations suggest that between 3 and 3.5 million adults in the EU have tried ecstasy at least once. Of these, 4–500 000 have used it once a week or more over a periodof time. The main reasons people give for taking ‘ecstasy’ is to
enjoy dancing and have fun. Other recreational drugs are also taken to boost confidence and energy or offer new experiences. The key link between drugs and alcohol is highlighted by the higher rates of drug use among
relatively affluent young people who go to dance clubs,pubs and bars and drink a lot of alcohol. Alcohol remains the psychoactive substance most frequently and widely used for recreational purposes. Wide range of illicit drugs is used in nightlife settings depending on the cultural background of the parties and of the regional trends of use: Ecstasy, amphetamine or cocaine are the most common to have fun and dance all the night long ;
Hallucinogens such as LSD, magic mushroom or ketamine are more used in rave parties ;GHB and poppers use is observed mainly in gay
scenes and are related to sexual practices ; Heroine can be sniffed to soften the down of stimulants (mainly in free rave parties) ; Finally if cannabis is the most common drug used among young people, it is not so used during parties in nightclubs or bars as its consumption is easily detected
by the security staffs.
The mix of different substances is quite frequent and very often illicit drugs are combined with alcohol. This is the main reason of crisis at parties as it currently occurs in Paris where the combination of GHB with alcohol causes
comas within the gay club scene. However, compared to the level of recreational use of drugs, the frequency of accidents remains relatively low as well as the transition from an occasional use of drugs to a problematic or
The risks due to the use of drugs and alcohol in nightlife settings cannot be dissociated from other party-related risky behaviors such as violence, sexuality, hear-related risks, road safety, etc. These issues should thus be
approached in a global framework of health promotion in nightlife settings and should take into account the cultural background of the concerned dance scenes to which the behaviors are linked.
European responses reducing drug-related demand and harms in
nightlife settings From peer projects to municipal
strategies and action plans Concerns about the combined use of drugs and alcohol by young people in nightlife settings have led to the
development of strategies that aim to alter the social,economic and physical environments associated with alcohol and drug consumption, with the goals of: modifying consumption behaviors and norms; creating conditions less favorable to intoxication; and reducing opportunities for alcohol and drug-related problems to occur.A number of measures are reported by EU Member States to take place in, or around, nightlife settings with the specific aim of reducing harm or positively modifying the social environment. These include: training for bar and security staff; increased enforcement of existing legislation; raising awareness of substance-related harms; provision of late night transport services; and improvements intended to provide a safer nightlife environment.
Measures in this area are diverse, including such things as: improvements to street lighting; the availability of drinking water; proper ventilation; or even measures to provide a rapid response to medical emergencies. Often,
a common feature of this approach is that it is based upon a dialogue between different stakeholders, such as the police, licensing authorities, club owners and healthcare providers, who are required to work together in partnership to identify both local needs and possible solutions.
On an historical point of view, the members of the dance communities were the first stakeholders to tackle the recreational use drugs and other related risks. The first peer project emerged in 1989 in Edinburgh (Crew 2000),
followed during the 90s by the other community-based groups across Europe. During the 90s, a more integrative approach has been developed including the peer projects, drug prevention agencies, the dance scenes actors (club staffs and party organisers) and the authorities in order to
establish safer dance of safer clubbing guidelines. These guidelines aim at promoting a safer environment
(overheating, overcrowding, water availability, etc.) and training the club and party staffs (mainly the bouncers).For a couple of years, safer dance charters and labels have been the last innovative approach strongly supported by the municipalities and other local authorities in order
to strengthen the visibility of the safer dance guidelines application.
Peer education and drug information In the nightlife settings, the peer projects play a major role in the responses developed in Europe.
The delivery of […] interventions, which are largely information based, […] is usually carried out by trained peers at information stands. Brochures or leaflets/flyers about drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, as well
as condoms, are provided. Typically, a number of different self-help, non-governmental or scene-based organizations provide interventions at parties. These organizations acknowledge that drugs play a part in the festival scene and, while stating that the safest option is not to take drugs
at all, they usually neither proscribe nor condone the use of illegal drugs […]. Risk reduction materials are usually developed in styles that emulate youth cultures. Volunteers who provide peer education […] may occasionally be recreational drug users themselves or have used drugs in the past. In these cases, the objective is to be able to answer questions from young people about safe use and risk reduction, rather than to prevent drug use. 4
A peer project is a community-based project in which people address their equals. So, a group of people emerging from a particular scene such as partygoers, drug users, people living with HIV, sex workers etc. In the nightlife setting,some peer projects are self-supported whilst others are
incorporated into professional organizations:
*In France, peer projects from the rave party scene work in partnership with Médecins du Monde exchanging information and acting in common at
large events, however each group retains its own identity.
*In Germany, Spain, Portugal or Italy some groups include individuals from various fields such as social and medical workers as well as partygoers and drug users. Some of these projects are independent whilst others form a part of larger organisations.
From Safer dance guidelines to charters and labels supporting
In some European cities (Paris, Barcelona, Edinburgh,Brussels, Zurich, etc.), club owners and party organizers, with the participation of outreach workers and local authorities, help promote moderate drinking, raising
awareness of the harms of drugs and alcohol, while raising the safety characteristics of settings (e.g. providing free water, staff trained in first aid, chill-out areas). This commitment of the nightlife stakeholders has been raise in two steps:
In the 90s in UK, Safer dance or Safer clubbing guidelines has been developed jointly by organisers, club owners,users’ organisations and prevention agencies, aiming above all to create a safe physical environment. Health hazards in recreational settings more often arise from how events are organised rather than directly from drug use (e.g. intoxication or unexpected effects). Above all,overcrowding, poor ventilation, lack of affordable drinking water, violence and accidents from broken glass are
addressed. But guidelines also deal with drug dealing and the training of door supervisors to organize searches and supervise toilet areas. Training in first aid and early detection of drug-induced problems is included.
Recommendations for drug prevention by distributing information and outreach teams are included. The guidelines include aspects related to local communities,for example promoting liaison with local agencies and
police officers to organize safe transport and ensure that people can get home safely. These guidelines are being largely applied in Belgium, northern Italy and the United Kingdom.
Since 2005, the last innovation in the field is the development of safer nightlife charters or labels. These charters or labels are signed generally by a club owner on the one hand and by the responsible of the local safer
nightlife partnership on the other hand (for example the Mayor). The charters or labels include in fact the main
Strict abstinence-oriented messages are not realistic in party settings and information-based approaches alone are not effective. Lifestyle fashions, beliefs and attitudes of young target groups and the symbolic aspects of drugs and drug use are key factors that can be only used by the stakeholders issued from party scenes: peer projects, club owners, party organizers, etc. Their involvement in integrated local partnerships developing safer clubbing guidelines, charter and labels appears as the most efficient
response.The municipalities have the responsibility to support the
safer nightlife integrated partnerships which carry out such responses. This support can be done by co-financing, coordinating and/or promoting the local programes. Each city can take profit of the experiences of European
networks acting in this field which develop practice sharing and produce related guidelines.