The Loop gets green light from the Home Office

By Naomi Clarke

A landmark move to allow a ‘life-changing’ scheme has been licensed by the government.

Amid rising concerns over toxic substances, the first drug-checking clinic has been licenced by the Home office. It will allow users to have their illicit substances tested without fear of being arrested. If successful and proven to save lives, this move could be rolled out nationwide.

The Loop, co-founded in 2013 by a Professor of Criminology at Durham University, Fiona Measham, is a non-profit company which provides ‘drug safety testing, welfare and harm reduction services at nightclubs, festivals and other leisure events.’

Information like this can change behaviour, reduce hospital admissions, provide valuable intelligence about drugs […] ultimately, we believe, help to reduce drug-related harm.”

Professor Measham, Co-founder of Loop and Durham University Professor

This development of this service has come in light of concerns that users are buying drugs which contain other potentially toxic or more potent substance. Eleven people have died at festivals in the last two years even though drug use does not appear to be increasing, suggesting illegal substances now have higher levels of toxicity.

In December, the service found a brand of ‘super-ket’ in Durham following drug testing.

Durham became the second city in the UK to provide The Loop’s Multi-Agency Safety Testing (MAST) to the general public, with Bristol having already facilitated it.

The Loop’s pop-up lab was set up on the 12th and 15th of December, with the Christmas period being the busiest time of the year for drug and alcohol-related hospital admission. The ‘super-ket’ which was discovered in Durham was said to be ‘about 1.5x more potent than ketamine with 2-3x longer duration’.

The home office approved clinic pilot-project, which was three years in the making, was launched last week in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset and will allow anyone over the age of 18 to take their drugs to the clinic. This service is run by charity Addaction and testing will take about 10 minutes. During this time the user will complete a short questionnaire to allow harm reduction advice to be tailored to them.

“This is about saving lives,”

Roz Gittins, Addaction’s director

Professor Measham previously told Palatinate after Durham’s pop up lab: “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 belief, help to reduce drug-related harm.”

In a previous statement, policing minister Nick Hurd said the Home Office was not standing in the way of what he called “local operating decisions”. He added that he had spoken personally to Avon and Somerset Police Constable Andy Marsh and he was “very clear that this is the right thing to do and that he is very confident about his legal position in doing so”.

All the groups involved in the pilot insisted that they were not in any way condoning the use of illegal drugs.

“This is about saving lives,” said Roz Gittins, Addaction’s director of pharmacy in a statement. He stated, “If anything, this should be a positive step to help reduce drug-related harms. It is not just people’s lives, it’s also potential increased costs to the health service, for example, locally. If we can help to prevent those from occurring in the first place, then that is another positive thing.”

Photography: The Loop

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