In a landmark move for harm reduction, the drug treatment charity Addaction has announced that it has opened the UK’s first drug safety checking facility licensed by the Home Office. The facility opened on Friday 22nd February and is being run in partnership with the University of Hertfordshire and The Loop. Since 2016, drug safety checking has been on offer at some UK festivals and city centres but never before has it received Home Office backing.
For those who would like to know more about the service and how it will run, Volteface has put together a brief fact file with the assistance of Addaction’s Policy Manager, Steve Moffat.
Factfile: Weston-Super-Mare Drug Safety Checking Facility
The way the service works is that people will be able to bring their drugs into the existing Weston-Super-Mare drug service and give over a small sample that will be checking for and contaminants. The checking process will take roughly 10 minutes and while they wait users will complete a short questionnaire to allow harm reduction advice to be tailored to them. Any samples left over from the checking will be destroyed, however, service users will be able to leave the site with any remaining drugs they may have left on them.
Though the facility has received Home Office backing, the very fact that people will be entering and leaving the facility with illegal drugs on their person requires joint working agreements with the police. Addaction have an agreement with the police that people will not be arrested on their way to and from the service for possession of an illegal drug. However, it is important to note that the police will still have some discretion around this.
The opening times of the facility are:
- Friday February 22nd: 11am-6pm
- Wednesday February 27th: 10am-5pm
- Wednesday March 6th: 10am-5pm
- Friday March 15th: 11am-7pm
Only people who are aged 18+ are allowed to use the drug checking service. If a person aged under 18 did try and use the service, Addaction would aim to support that young person by delivering harm reduction advice and possibly referring them into another service.
Alongside getting their drugs checked and receiving appropriate harm reduction advice, service users will be able to access needle and syringe programmes, take-home-naloxone and self-refer into drug treatment. Addaction told Volteface that the service is being promoted in the local area but there is no outreach component and, at this moment, staff will not be going out specifically to certain groups to encourage them to use the service.
No additional funding has been made available for the project and all costs have been absorbed by Addaction, the University of Hertfordshire and The Loop. The university will be doing the drug checking and Addaction staff will be delivering the harm reduction advice. The Loop’s role in the facility has been to train Addaction’s staff in how they deliver this advice.
The pilot will only be operating for one month, however, Addaction’s license has been granted for 12 months so there will be the scope for the service to be extended.
Addaction see this pilot as a learning exercise that will inform the sector’s understanding of how effectively drug safety checking works in a drug service. It is Addaction’s intention that the outcome of this pilot will inform their strategic direction.
Lizzie McCulloch is Director of Policy at Volteface. Tweets @Liz_McCll