The first Home Office-licensed clinic that field tests street drugs has opened in Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset.
The pilot clinic — a collaboration between the drug, alcohol and mental health charity Addaction and the University of Hertfordshire — will run until 15 March 2019.
It is housed in an established drug treatment centre, and two pharmacists working with the clinic hope it will lead to wider pharmacy-led drug testing service.
Although testing of illicit drugs has happened at nightclubs and festivals in the past, Roz Gittins, director of pharmacy at Addaction, said the Somerset clinic was the first to be set up with Home Office approval and under existing legislation.
The drug testing is led by Amira Guirguis, a pharmacist and senior lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire with a special interest drug misuse and new psychoactive substances.
“Working with my PhD student, we undertake onsite analysis using one of the latest technologies that gives results in a few minutes,” she told The Pharmaceutical Journal. “It’s able to identify a very large number of drugs, unlike urine or saliva tests.
“What we are doing at the moment is trying to test the feasibility of using this technology out in the field, with real street drugs: both pharmaceutical-like samples and herbal samples.”
Once the drug has been identified, along with any additional components found in the product, the information is passed to Addaction UK staff who, Guirguis said, “carry out the harm reduction part, and the one-to-one with the person who has given the sample”. Addaction’s staff have been specially trained by The Loop, a not-for-profit community interest company that provides drug testing at festivals and nightclubs.
If analysis revealed that a drug was “something that we haven’t seen on the market for some time, or something new, or something lethal, we are going to raise national alerts”, she added.
Both Guirguis and Gittins said they would ultimately like to see drug testing rolled out as a pharmacy-led service.
“We have the clinical knowledge, which helps us tailor our approach to the person who brought the drug: to give them the best advice to minimise harm and prevent premature death”, Guirguis said. “We are trying to bring that person into the clinic and give them treatment.”
“We are in no way condoning the use of drugs or saying that they are safe to use,” said Gittins. “But at the same time we’re not burying our heads in the sand. It’s our job to help people be safer”.