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At least three UK cities are getting drug testing facilities - here's what it'll mean

This is long overdue

At least three UK cities are getting drug testing facilities - here's what it'll mean
12 February 2018

In a world where we’ve had enough of experts, and dogma triumphs reason and evidence on an alarmingly regular basis, it’s nice - just once in a while - to see a logical decision being made.

The world has long had a complicated relationship with drugs, with government policy dominated by emotion and historical factors above and beyond the here and now of what’s going on, but it looks like that might finally be about to change.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has published a report detailing a number of recommendations which aim to reduce the harmful effects of drugtaking, both to individuals and communities, and which aims to make better use of limited police resources.

One of these recommendations is to introduce on-site drugs testing; places where people are able to take their drugs to be tested, to discover exactly what is in them, in order than they can then make a decision over whether it is safe to take them.

The proposal reads: 

“Introducing on-site testing in night-time economy areas to reduce the number of deaths and increase the authorities’ intelligence of drugs in circulation.”

The service has been offered by harm reduction organisation The Loop for several years, specifically at clubs and festivals - and now there are already plans for testing labs to be offered in three as-yet-unknown UK town and city centres in the very near future.

Last summer, they operated at six different festivals, including BoomTown in Winchester. 

The Loop co-founder Fiona Measham told Vice at the time: “The head of the paramedics and the head of welfare [at Boomtown] both said they had seen significantly lower drug-related problems coming to them this year, and were adamant this was because we were onsite.”

Regarding the city and town centre labs, Measham said

“Three town and city centres are onboard for us to be delivering in spring, summer time, and I think Birmingham will be the fourth once we’ve identified where the testing might happen. The testing could be in a nightclub, but also in town centres. It could be in a pop-up lab, it could be in a Portkabin, it could be in a church. You know, there are lots of possibilities. It would depend on local knowledge about where the best venue would be.”

Boomtown Festival in Winchester, where drug testing was used last year

This is, surely, a hugely welcome development. The argument for the criminalisation of drugs is that it is the state protecting people from causing harm to themselves. Well, given that all drugs policy thus far has failed to dent either the supply of drugs, nor people’s desire or ability to take them, then it surely makes complete sense to at least make that experience as safe and harm-free as possible.

One of the other key recommendations in the report is “establishing a formal scheme to divert those suffering from addiction into treatment and away from the courts”; in other words, attempting to help addicts rather than criminalise them.

A further recommendation reads: “Prescribing heroin in a medical setting to people suffering from addiction who have not responded to other forms of treatment. This will take the market away from organised criminals and stop people stealing to fund their addiction.”

In addition, the report suggests “equipping and training police officers in the application of naloxone - a medication that can be used to help those overdosing”.

Practical, realistic measures aimed at helping save and then rehabilitate people, rather than punishing them for their addictions, actions that cost the state more money and, long-term, do nothing to address the root cause.

Measham explained to Vice: “The report just opens so many doors. It opens the door for more police and more police forces to come out in favour of something they might have been thinking about already, but weren’t sure how it would be received – and I think this is going to be very, very well received.”

It’s hard to disagree with that assessment.

(Images: iStock / Rex)