Scottish government to seek licences for street drug-checking facilities

Exclusive: Elena Whitham, Scottish drugs and alcohol policy minister, said the government is working towards launching a pilot drug-checking scheme to support those affected by substance misuse.
drug testing service at festival

The Scottish government has confirmed it is to seek licences for street drug-checking facilities.

Elena Whitham, Scottish drugs and alcohol policy minister, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the government was “committed to delivering drug-checking facilities” and was working towards launching a pilot scheme.

Drug checking services aim to reduce drug-related harms and deaths by allowing people to test illegal substances for their content and potency without fear of arrest.

Scotland has the highest number of drug deaths in Europe. Scottish government data, published on 12 September 2023, show that there were 600 suspected drug deaths in Scotland during the first six months of 2023, which is 7% higher than the same period in 2022. 

Plans to submit drug-checking licence applications in Scotland to the Home Office for approval stalled in early 2022, but Whitman said that, following recent clarification on criteria from the UK government, it was anticipated that applications would be submitted “in the coming months”.

“Through our £250m national mission on drugs, I am focused on supporting those affected by problem substance use, delivering real change on the ground and implementing evidence-based approaches we know can help save lives,” she added.

A two-year research project at the University of Stirling, which was completed in May 2023 and funded by the Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce, identified Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen as possible drug-checking pilot sites.

There are currently no drug checking services in Scotland. In England, charity The Loop runs drug-testing services at festivals and clubs, and drug users in Wales can anonymously post samples to the Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances (WEDINOS) service, which is run by Public Health Wales.

Catriona Matheson, professor in substance use at the University of Stirling, and former chair of the Scottish government’s Drug Deaths Taskforce, said she was supportive of drug checking.

“The illicit market is very unpredictable at present, with lots of new and emerging trends, not to mention the ongoing challenges of not knowing what is in a substance. Drug checking will help reduce risk,” she said.

Laura Wilson, director for Scotland at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said: “RPS in Scotland is supportive of any tool that can be implemented to help reduce the harms from drugs, including drug-checking services.”

Plans to open the UK’s first safe consumption facility for drug users in Glasgow were approved on 27 September 2023.

All community pharmacies in Scotland have provided emergency access to naloxone, a medicine that rapidly reverses opioid overdose, since 30 October 2023.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, November 2023, Vol 311, No 7979;311(7979)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.200361

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