Drug Purity Testing to Be Offered in Some British Nightclubs Next Year

By Keri Blakinger 12/08/16

The organizers say the free service is about reducing the risks of drug use, not enabling illegal behavior.

Purple lights in a nightclub.
Photo: via YouTube

Some UK nightclubs are set to offer free drug testing to check the purity of club drugs like cocaine and MDMA, according to British media reports.

After a spike in drug-related deaths, local police are on board with the controversial idea, The Independent reported. Starting next year, free booths will pop up on Friday and Saturday nights in the Lancashire city of Preston.

Volunteer testers using high-tech laser equipment won’t actually touch the drugs themselves, and anything that’s tested will be destroyed afterward so the booths don’t run afoul of the law. Clubbers who use the testing service won’t have to give their names and police have said they won’t target anyone stopping by the booths.

Fiona Measham, the Durham University professor who runs the non-profit behind the testing, said the initiative is about reducing the risks of drug use. “It’s a very new service and some people might see it as quite radical, but it’s focusing on harm reduction,” she told The Sunday Times.

But critics lashed out at the free service as enabling illegal behavior. “I am staggered this is being contemplated,” said Professor Neil McKeganey, founder of the Centre for Substance Use Research at Glasgow University. “The police are advocating a view which one would not unfairly describe as facilitating drug use.”

Last year, some UK music festivals offered a similar service, branding it a success when five out of 300 people opted not to take drugs after seeing the test results.

“For many young people 'just say no' simply doesn't work, so 'just say know' is vital to help protect them,” the Transform Drug Policy Foundation’s Steve Rolles told the Daily Mail at the time.

With the new initiative on the horizon, harm reduction groups in the U.S. offered praise and optimism. DanceSafe’s Kristin Karas called it “an amazing example of what it means to prioritize the health and safety of patrons” and compared it to using condoms to minimize the risks of sex. “This is a practice that should be widespread including in the United States,” she told The Fix.

Stefanie Jones, the Drug Policy Alliance’s Safer Partying campaign director, described it as an “absolutely vital” intervention. “It’s incredibly exciting to see what’s happening in the U.K. – it’s a model for what needs to happen in the U.S.,” she told The Fix

“Quite frankly, unless we start regulating the most commonly used drugs, drug checking is likely to become one of the most urgent and important harm reduction interventions of the future,” said Jones.  

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.