The presence of sniffer dogs at music festivals makes people choose to take drugs earlier, faster or in higher quantities, according to research published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.
The study from Australia’s RMIT University also found the prospect of sniffer dogs made people choose to stash pills internally, wrapped in plastic or condoms.
The conclusion of the study says the use of drug dogs in these contexts: “is producing substantial harm without evidence of benefit, and should be urgently reconsidered.”
Some of those interviewed for the study said they would take their pills at the first sign of sniffer dogs. Author Dr Peta Malins told ABC: “The sniffer dog operations just aren’t deterring people from using drugs or taking drugs into festivals, what they’re doing instead is encouraging people to change and adapt their drug-using behaviour”.
“People are still using drugs but they’re just doing it in more dangerous ways.”
The research is based on field observations at music festivals and interview with 22 people who have been searched after the use of sniffer dogs.
“One of the really worrying things to come out of the interviews is just how traumatic the strip searches being increasingly used in the drug dog operations are for people,” Dr Malins said.
“People talked about how dehumanising and traumatising those strip searches were, particularly for people who have experienced trauma and sexual assault before in their life – some experience very long-term trauma after these strip searches.”
She added that the presence of dogs caused “a great deal” of fear, anxiety and stigma about being searched in front of others.
One participant in the study, who was not carrying any drugs, said being searched triggered past trauma. She said: “A female police officer came over and put her hands on me and I found that very distressing because coming from domestic violence, someone putting their hands on my body without permission is very distressing”.
One participant reported having panic attacks since being strip-searched and told the study: “I haven’t engaged with my PhD since … I just found myself stuck and just kept thinking about it and reliving it over and over again. I could just see how it could tip people over the edge in the following months either into severe depression or even suicide.”
Some British festivals are required to have sniffer dogs on site under the conditions of their licence.
Dr Malins said: “Because the evidence is showing they’re not working to deter drug use and causing all these other harms it would be far better for police and government resources to be focused on supporting being safe at events.”