If we want to save more lives,
we need to stop drug-testing people
and start drug testing… drugs.
We’ve been doing it all wrong.
What got me thinking about drug testing this morning was this headline in a piece at Release: The case for drug testing and a push for drug policy reform, and at first my hackles went up at reading “the case for drug testing” because I’m so fed up with the push for drug testing people, until I realized that it was about drug testing drugs.
Of course, that’s a kind of drug testing that I fully support.
Pretty much all recreational drugs can be safe if used responsibly and appropriately. But a critical key to that is knowing what’s in them. And that’s a real problem when they’re controlled by the black market. Having a regulated system that controls the purity and contaminants in drugs would save so many. And until we can get there, harm reduction approaches like those promoted by Release are critical.
Strict law-enforcement, stemming from the UN convention treaties, of well-known established drugs such as MDMA has paved the way for a new market of unknown substances and an emerging culture of legal highs. This is no more clearly seen than through the banning of a number of precursor chemicals used to make MDMA – the most well-known being the 50 tonne seizure of safrole in Thailand back in 2010. This led to a significant dent in availability for MDMA production and so chemists looked for alternative ways and means of production.
Unfortunately, the use of anise oil as a replacement precursor resulted in the product PMA. Consequently, international governments have inadvertently allowed more dangerous chemicals to enter the drugs market by cutting the supply of MDMA.
It is therefore a sad reality that our drug laws have contributed to the deaths of those young men at Christmas and New Year. As, â€œby handing the control of the trade over to the black market, successive governments have abdicated all responsibility.â€ These deaths are an added example of a worrying upward trend in drug related deaths â€“ which saw a 21% increase in 2013, a figure that jumped to 32% for heroin/morphine deaths alone. As such, this is an issue that the government should be primarily focused on tacking. […]
The Netherlands has adopted a very pragmatic approach when it comes to harm reduction for drug users. Here, residents have access to a free, government funded drug testing service, which is â€œborn out of a culture that believes in accepting the reality of life and shaping policy in a way that recognises that human behaviour cannot be completely controlled.â€ It was this same drug testing centre, the Trimbos Institute, which issued its highest alert possible on the same pink Superman pills after testing them and finding that they contained PMA. The UK government failed to act on this vital information â€“ with the only immediate alert in the UK made by Criminology Professor, Fiona Measham who received the alarm from a local drugs testing group and â€œconsidered the warning too important to ignoreâ€.
If the UK had adopted harm reduction schemes such as those in The Netherlands, the likely-hood of those men dying would have been far lower. Initiatives need to be put in place. The first step should be for the Home Office to ensure there are accessible drug testing facilities, where the public can get illicit substances tested without fear of being criminalised. This is an initiative that has quietly got underway here in the UK, but not to the extent that is needed. Pioneered by Professor Fiona Meacham at Durham University who uses the latest technology to test confiscated substances at The Warehouse Project in Manchester, enabling her team to send out immediate and localised warnings about potentially dangerous drugs. This is a service that should be available to everyone to ensure that if people are going to take drugs, they know what they contain.