Addaction is trialling the UK’s first licensed drug checking service in North Somerset as a ground-breaking way to help save lives. The pilot will run in partnership with the University of Hertfordshire, a renowned leader in psychoactive substance analysis and drug detection research since 2010, with support from The Loop, which has successfully delivered drug safety testing services since 2016.
People who are putting their lives at risk by taking unknown substances, can come into the service and have a sample checked. Whilst there, Addaction staff can talk to them about the support available to make changes to their lives, and, once they know what’s in the substance, give targeted harm reduction advice.
The Home Office has granted Addaction the first UK licence for drug checking. During the pilot, people will be able to come to the service and check a sample of their substance to see what it’s likely to contain. The study is based on a harm reduction model that helps people make informed decisions.
The drug checking service reflects our research vision on improving the identification of the actual content in drug samples, identifying potential sources of severe harm, gaining an understanding of novel trends and raising relevant alerts.
Dr Amira Guirguis
Senior Lecturer and Principal Investigator for the project, from the University of Hertfordshire
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.
We’re excited to be working in partnership with colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire and hugely grateful to the Home Office for granting the licence and to The Loop for their help in training staff for this project.
The work done 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 and more information entering the national network of drug alerts.
Direction of Pharmacy at Addaction and lead on the project
The anonymous service will be available to anyone over the age of 18 who gives informed consent and agrees to provide a sample of their substance. Trained staff will do an on-site test to determine the likely content. The process will take about 10 minutes during which time the owner of the substance will complete a short questionnaire to allow harm reduction advice to be tailored to their needs.
This is an exciting development for Addaction, the Loop and for UK harm reduction generally, resulting from several years of hard work. 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.
Professor Fiona Measham
Professor of Criminology at Durham University and Director of the Loop
All partners involved in this pilot agree that they are not condoning the use of illegal drugs and samples are not returned to their owners.
Addaction also runs a free and confidential web chat service, staffed by trained advisors, at www.addaction.org.uk