Saturday 16 December 2017

Nightclubs could soon provide free drug testing so users can check 'purity' of substances

New initiative aims to reduce deaths from taking 'adulterated' substances

Drug test: Most overdose deaths are caused by the user’s ignorance as to the drug’s purity. Stock photo
Drug test: Most overdose deaths are caused by the user’s ignorance as to the drug’s purity. Stock photo
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

Nightclubs could soon provide free drug testing so users can check the 'purity' of substances bought from dealers.

The aim is to reduce the risk of accidental death by ensuring drugs such as cocaine and MDMA do not contain other potentially lethal ingredients.

The Sunday Independent has learned a specially formed steering committee - established to develop a new national drugs strategy - will submit its final report to Government within the next three weeks.

Under the plan, which would require a change in the law, users could have illegal drugs or party pills legally tested for a range of lethal substances, on-site in a club or at events such as a music festival.

The plan is based on a review carried out by the Health Research Board.

Advocates say it could reduce drug-related deaths by investigating if cocaine and various other substances are ''adulterated or highly potent''.

Increasingly, users of ''street drugs'' are unaware of what may have been mixed with the substance they are consuming. In many countries, including Ireland, drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines are increasingly cut with other substances, such as caffeine, phenacetin, levamisole and local anaesthetics.

Drug checking services already exist in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Front-of-house testing was trialled at two music festivals in the UK last summer.

Testing is done by putting samples into a container, which is taken to an off-site mobile laboratory, that can determine the chemical make-up of drugs. Advocates also suggest testing kits for synthetic so-called 'party' drugs may be a way of reducing risk.

Sadie Grace, head of the National Family Support Network, said the provision of drug testing will save lives, and reduce serious health complications.

"We know that more and more young people are being exposed to synthetic drugs and therefore the significant negative impact these substances can have.

"From working with families all over Ireland we have heard and witnessed the absolute devastation a bereavement brings and measures which can potentially alleviate this happening to another family are always welcome,'' she said.

Tony Duffin, head of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, said drug testing is needed at the "point of consumption" in places like festivals and clubs.

"There are a number of formal drug testing initiatives in other countries that Ireland can learn from.

"These models should be investigated and drug testing services, suitable to the Irish context, should be implemented as a matter of priority."

Sources involved in drawing up Ireland's new drugs strategy say the provision of the testing kits does not mean illegal activity is being condoned - rather it is an effort to reduce the number of fatalities from substances which have been tampered with and made more toxic.

A number of legal issues will also have to be resolved.

However, it is argued that the proposed testing kits -when combined with other strategies such as more education on substance abuse - could make drug use safer for those who do not abstain from risky behaviour.

Critics, however, say such a move risks ''normalising'' drug-taking and emphasised that no drugs are ever truly safe.

Latest figures produced by the Health Research Board show that in 2014 - the most recent year for which data is available - 697 people died from drug-related abuse.

This was a 62pc increase on the 2004 figure.

Sunday Independent

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