A monthly street drug-checking service, thought to be the first in the UK, has begun operating in Bristol.
Funded by Bristol City Council, the service is run jointly by drug harm reduction charity The Loop, Bristol Drugs Project, the University of Liverpool and the University of Bath.
The new service opened its doors on 27 January 2024 and will run once per month, with the aim of reducing harm from drug taking and increasing understanding of local drug markets.
Drug users can submit substances of concern for free chemical testing in a mobile laboratory to identify their content and strength, with results ready in one hour.
The laboratory has a Home Office licence to handle controlled drugs, with conditions that allow individual test results to be disseminated directly to service users who are aged over 18 years and considered to be dependent users.
Service users are also able to access confidential advice and support from healthcare professionals.
Fiona Measham, founder and chair of trustees of The Loop, and chair in criminology at the University of Liverpool, called the service “a landmark moment for harm reduction”.
She said: “After 12 years of preparations, evaluations and negotiations, it is fantastic news that The Loop can start the UK’s first regular drug-checking service.
“With more cities due to follow soon, this launch represents the start of a new era for drug checking and it could not come at a more important time. The risks from adulteration of the illegal drug market have never been greater.”
Ellie King, cabinet lead for public health and communities at Bristol City Council, said the initiative was “ultimately going to save lives”.
“It also means our communities will be able to access scientific and evidence-based information about the drugs that they may consume and that are in circulation,” King added.
Commenting on the launch of the service, Tase Oputu, chair of Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s English Pharmacy Board, welcomed the service as “a positive step towards safeguarding individuals and communities from the risks associated with drug use”.
“We encourage continued collaboration and investment in evidence-based interventions that prioritise public safety,” she added.
According to a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, published in June 2023, 12 countries in Europe report the existence of drug-checking services.
The Loop has been running drug-checking services at UK music festivals since 2016 and operated a pilot drug-checking service in Bristol in 2018.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “For the past 50 years, anyone wishing to provide a drug-checking service must have a licence to test controlled drugs, [for] which they can apply to the Home Office.”
In November 2023, the Scottish government told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it was seeking licences for street drug-checking facilities.