Confidential drug testing service launches in Durham

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Durham is to become the second city in the UK to offer a confidential drug testing service which determines the contents and purity of submitted substances.

The service works by allowing any individual to bring a substance to The Loop’s pop-up lab located inside St Nicholas Church, in Market Place, on Wednesday 12th and Saturday 15th December.

Fiona Measham, co-director of the Loop and Professor of Criminology at Durham University, told Palatinate she encourages students to visit the lab if they are thinking of taking substances during the final week of term.

Multi Agency Safety Testing (MAST), founded by the Loop, has been successfully trialled in Bristol, and aims to reduce the risk of harm to members of the public from drugs over the Christmas period through identifying potentially dangerous substances and releasing public warnings. This thus eases the pressure on hospital units during the busiest time of the year for drug and alcohol-related admissions.

The service works by allowing any individual to bring a substance to The Loop’s pop-up lab located inside St Nicholas Church, in Market Place in the city, during selected opening hours.

At the pop-up lab samples will be forensically tested, without charge and confidentially, and the results are then given during a 15 minute consultation. Additional risk factors such as medical history, medications and use of alcohol and other substances are all taken into account when giving out advice.

This follows a recent Palatinate investigation which found a number of Durham undergraduates are making thousands of pounds of profit from selling illegal drugs purchased on the dark web to fellow students.

The Loop is a non-profit organisation which provides unique free, confidential and non-judgmental drug safety testing service to the general public. Loop chemists will operate in partnership with Durham University’s Department of Chemistry over the course of the pop-up.

The Home Office Policing Minister Nick Hurd MP recently said that the introduction of the Loop’s drug safety testing “is a local operating decision that we will not stand in the way of”.

Around one in every five substances tested by the laboratory proves not to be the drug individuals thought that they had bought.

While health professionals do not advise that any tested substance is ‘safe’ for use, the information provided allows individuals to make informed decisions.

Statistics show that one in five will hand over further substances for disposal when they hear their test result and nearly half intend to take less than they otherwise planned to.

Professor Fiona Measham said: “We live in the real world where, despite everything we may do to stop it, some people will take drugs and we want to help them make informed decisions about the risks involved.”

“The Loop’s drug safety testing over the last three years shows information like this can change behaviour, reduce hospital admissions, provide valuable intelligence about drugs in circulation to alert emergency services and the wider community, and ultimately, we believe, help to reduce drug-related harm.

“We are grateful to Durham Constabulary, Durham University and all our partners for their support in making this happen, and especially to St Nicholas church for allowing us to reach out to the local community from their church during the festive season.”

Warnings about specific dangerous substances will be shared via social media, allowing information from a single test to spread to others in the city and beyond.

Durham Constabulary released a warning last week about a potentially dangerous batch of drugs in the area, while three men were admitted to hospital over the course of the weekend.

Ron Hogg, the Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner for Durham said: “I support this approach which reduces harm to drug users in order to keep people safe and prevent drug-related deaths. It gives us an idea of what is in circulation and gets it out of circulation, allowing us a level of regulation of an otherwise unregulated and harmful market.”

The service departs from the no-tolerance attitude to drug-taking through its non-judgmental and relaxed approach toward drug-users, focusing primarily on safety.

Mike Barton, Chief Constable of Durham, commended the new service: “I think this is a welcome initiative to deal with an unwelcome problem.”

“Anyone who thinks drugs are not freely available in the UK is hiding their head in the sand. We need to know what dangerous chemicals are in those drugs which are, all too often, available and this initiative is about making it safer for people.”

The MAST pop-up lab will be inside St Nicholas Church, in Market Place between 12-6pm Wednesday 12th December and 12-8pm Saturday 15th December for free and confidential forensic testing.

Photographs courtesy of Loop

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