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Colombian Music Festival Tests Drugs for Purity

A new harm reduction strategy allows drug users to find out what they're actually taking.


Do you know what you're taking?
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By McCarton Ackerman


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A new service in which drug users can test their substances for purity before events may help reduce health risks. A massive electronic music party in the Colombian capital of Bogota featured a drug testing lab where party-goers could get an instant analysis of the substances they were about to take in order to determine their safety. "We can perform chemical tests that allow us to define two things: whether the substance is what the user thinks it is, and whether it contains a dangerous adulterant," says Julian Molina, who works for the NGO Accion Tecnica Social. "The idea is to have reliable information to help you make a better decision about whether or not to take the risk." Molina, who runs the lab, says that many users are being sold drugs that are mis-labeled or adulterated with other unknown substances. But while drug checking may reduce risk, the while-you-wait testing in clubs is not foolproof, especially with a surge of new designer drugs on the market. "We also used to test in clubs [here in the Netherlands] but the problem is that there were so many drugs we couldn't recognise," says Roel Kerssemakers, a health education officer at the Dutch drug-checking service Jellinek. A recent report the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction revealed that 73 new drugs entered the market in 2012 alone. Kerssemakers points out that these drug labs may be able to help identify new drugs that are circulating. "We can find dangerous pills much earlier and send a red alert out to the community much more quickly," he says. But even when drugs are tested as pure, he says drug users are never told that their safety is ensured: "We always say that taking drugs is taking a risk."

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