UK Nightclubs Offer Controversial Drug-Testing Service

UK Nightclubs Offer Controversial Drug-Testing Service

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UK Clubs Offer Controversial New Drug-Testing BoothsSomeone I met in treatment told me (with a chilling matter-of-factness) that he’d “probably snorted more gasoline and baby laxatives than cocaine” in his lifetime, not to mention shooting up everything from drain cleaner to chemicals cooked up in someone’s shitty kitchen. In the end, he simply didn’t want to know what false drugs he’d bought and ingested. Living in rural Ohio, he simply seemed happy to have his hands on any drug. In fact, to hear him talk about drug use, “purity” was an absolute luxury. According to a recent article in The Independent, that’s not a popular opinion anymore—especially since “drug-related deaths have soared to the highest level since records began, with the vast majority resulting from accidental poisoning.” Some statistics indicate that drug-related deaths have tripled since 1993. As a result, several UK nightclubs have begun offering free drug testing to party-goers—meaning testing of the actual drugs themselves. It’s an initiative that, if successful in the UK, might change the landscape of global drug laws forever.

How Does It Work?

The UK’s list of Class A drugs is as lengthy as it is populated with all the usual suspects: cocaine, fentanyl, mescaline, morphine, opium, oxycodone and psilocin, just to name a few. Ectsasy and MDMA also remain highly popular on the list. The Independent story notes that nightclubs in the city of Preston are offering drug-testing services “to people who want to know if their Class A substances are pure.” It’s an approach that’s both controversial and curious. “The walk-in booths, run by a charity, will aim to reduce drug-related deaths by checking cocaine and MDMA are not ‘adulterated or highly potent,’” the piece said. Club-goers essentially step into a booth, hand over a sample of their drugs and get results within 15 minutes.

“Volunteers operating out of a caravan will not handle the drugs directly and any substances tested will be destroyed afterwards,” the Independent reported. Interestingly, this isn’t even the first time the drug-testing program has been tried out in the UK. It was tested at two music festivals and, as the Leyland Guardian observed, both of them were successful with zero advertisement. (“One in five of 300 people who used the service” didn’t use their drugs after having them tested, by the way.) In fact, Professor Fiona Measham, the director of the project, doesn’t even condone substance use. Yet, for her, the service isn’t even the start of something new—it’s just the best alternative to a grim alternative. “Our aim is to reduce hospitalizations and maybe even deaths. We hope that it adds to the information about what is circulating on the market,” she said. “There are unscrupulous dealers out there who are selling rubbish.”

Is This Even Legal?

While local police don’t endorse the project, they’ve pledged to not interfere with it, either—which says a lot about how out of control drug overdoses have gotten in the UK. Still, not everyone’s on board with the concept. Many critics fear that “the project could normalize drug-taking” and contend that the police are “encouraging drug use” by not jailing clubbers with drugs on them. “I am staggered this is being contemplated,” the founder of Glasgow University’s Center for Substance Use Research told the Independent. “The police are advocating a view which one would not unfairly describe as facilitating drug use. By implication the green light has been given by the authorities to consumption. It’s hard to see how this isn’t an absolute breach of our current drugs laws.”

Current drug laws may simply be outdated and insufficient, though. The number of drug-related deaths in the UK “soared to 2,250 per year in 2014, almost triple the levels found when records began in 1993.” And that’s why the project exists in the first place. It’s not because the drug-testing program’s facilitators enjoy flaunting drug laws so much as they’re trying anything and everything that works. “It’s a very new service and some people might see it as quite radical,” Professor Measham admitted to the Independent, “but it’s focusing on harm reduction.” While the police aren’t openly endorsing the service, it hasn’t stopped the media from “getting a little bit over-excited about it.” In other words, a lot of people can’t see the service for what it is so much as seeing the end of morality as they know it.

Is This the Future of Recreational Drug Use?

The program is as straightforward as it is secure for the people who try it out. Users will not be required to give their names, and will not face repercussions for possessing an illegal substance,” the Independent reported. “The service will use sophisticated laser equipment that can reveal any drug’s content in minutes and is described as a ‘pragmatic’ response to drug problems in clubs.” Fiona Measham points toward the sheer number of counterfeit chemicals and ingredients passing as something else entirely: “Boric acid sold as cocaine, ground up anti-malaria tablets also passed off as cocaine and 100 percent concrete dust sold as ecstasy,” she warned.

Once clubgoers get the results back on their drugs, they’re offered “free and confidential advice by experienced drug workers who can highlight the risks they face.” That said, Measham notes that the aim is not to lecture anyone about the well-known dangers of drugs. Still, she’s defensive about how the service is perceived. “I have to make it absolutely clear [that]we don’t condone drug use,” Measham told the Guardian. “But if we look at the evidence of other countries which already have this drug testing, we’ve found they have much lower mortality rates in relation to drugs.” She cites Switzerland, which pioneered a similar program, as a great example of a country that hasn’t seen “party drug deaths for the last seven years.” While it’s equal parts unpopular and innovative, one thing is certain about the service: it aims to ensure that some people’s nights out don’t end up being their very last.

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About Author

Paul Fuhr is an addiction recovery writer whose work has appeared in The Literary Review, The Live Oak Review, The Sobriety Collective and InRecovery Magazine, among others. He is the author of the alcoholism memoir “Bottleneck.” He's also the creator and co-host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and recovery. Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and their cats, Dr. No and Goldeneye.