The Home Office has issued a license for a the UK’s first drug checking service which has opened in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset in England.
The service, run by the charity Addaction, will allow people to have their illicit substances tested for chemical composition and purity without fear of arrest.
The year-long pilot project, which opened fully to the public on Monday the 25th of February, will allow anyone over the age of 18 to take their drugs to the clinic. Testing the substances will take about 10 minutes, during which time the user will complete a short questionnaire to allow harm reduction advice to be tailored to them.
Roz Gittins, Addaction’s director of pharmacy, said: “This is about saving lives.”
“We know people take drugs. We don’t have to condone it but nor should we judge people or bury our heads in the sand. It’s our job to do whatever we can to help people make informed choices about the risks they’re taking. Checking the content of drugs is a sensible and progressive way to do that. If people know what’s in something, they can be better informed about the potential harm of taking it.”
Similar pop-up drug-checking services have been carried out by drug safety charity the Loop at music festivals and a pop-up site in Bristol city centre. But the new project, which has been three years in the planning, is the first to be licensed by the government.
“It’s Home Office-licensed, but in addition to that we have a local agreement in place with the police force,” Gittins said. “So people will not be stopped and searched on their way in or out of the buildings, because they are supportive of what’s going on.” The pilot is being run in partnership with Hertfordshire University and The Loop, which is providing the testing equipment.
The work carried out by the Loop already shows that people who have had substances tested often then decide not to take them, or take less than planned, resulting in less health issues.
Fiona Measham, professor of criminology at Durham University and director of the Loop, said: “Three summers’ piloting festival testing and a year piloting city-centre testing has shown that drug safety testing can identify substances of concern, productively engage with service users and reduce drug-related harm.”