The Loop, a not-for-profit company specialising in harm reduction services, is recommending that venues and events where drugs are commonly used should have testing facilities for users to find out what is in their drugs.
The suggestion was made at a Conservative party fringe event where drug experts and industry leaders discussed how to tackle the steady rise in drug-related deaths. 2016 resulted in 63 deaths that are believed to have been caused by ecstasy consumption. The figure is the highest number in 16 years. The increase in drug-related deaths is linked to higher drug potency. Ecstasy tablets now contain up to 300mg compared to previous tablets containing an average of 85 to 115mg.
This increased potency, combined with an unregulated market, has allowed drugs to become more dangerous. Tablets have also laced with dangerous additives such as fentanyl or pentalone. Side effects from these include seizures, hallucinations, and even death.
The Loop claims that the availability of drug testing facilities in venues allows drug users to know if there are unexpected additives in their drugs. The facilities were provided at the Secret Garden Party festival. It is thought the facilities contributed to a drop in drug users that were hospitalised during the event, falling from 19 to one respectively.
Commenting on the pilot scheme, Professor Fiona Measham, Director of the Loop, stated
“This is a great way to get access to people early on in their drug use before they might develop problems.”
Measham also outlined the benefit to emergency services responding to drug-related incidents.
The issue with such facilities becoming a mainstay in the UK clubbing scene lies in the zero-tolerance approach to drugs adopted by local authorities. Alan Miller, Chairman of the Night Time Industries Association, stated
“If you’re a venue or a festival you can’t say in good conscience you want to have drugs testing or harm reduction because they will generally say, in most areas, that you are advocating and condoning drug use. You’ve got this dilemma which is a lack of good faith between parties.”
A Home Office spokesperson affirmed that the government does not plan to decriminalise drugs. The spokesperson stated
“Drugs can have a devastating impact and this Government’s approach to them remains clear – we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people through treatment and recovery […] In July we released a comprehensive new drugs strategy, setting out a balanced approach which brings together police, health, community and global partners to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with drug dependency to recover and turn their lives around.”