Drug checking

What a Drug Checking service is

Over the past 20 years the term “Drug Checking” has evolved from European English to refer to a specific type of service, different from the literal translation “to examine a drug to examine its quality or detect the presence of drugs”. This is similar to the use of the phrase “drug testing” in the USA to refer almost exclusively to the analysis of human samples to detect the consumption of drugs.

The service

A Drug Checking service is one which focuses on public health and harm reduction for members of the public, by analyzing drugs to detect their contents and returning the results of each analysis to service users with the intention of helping the user reduce risk exposure without judgement of their decision to consume drugs. In order to allow this focus on public health, a drug checking service uses the results of the analysis to contextualize the risks faced by the service user, including discussing interactions between substances that have been detected and explaining any quantitative results. The service must involve an exchange of information between the service user and the drug checking service, to obtain information which is specific to that service user, and this information must be used to tailor the advice given, embedded within a harm reduction consultation of some sort.

Drug checking service must

  • Have an explicit aim of reducing harm
  • Collect and analyse samples directly from the public
  • Return the analysis results to the service user directly
  • Involve an exchange of information between the service user and the drug checking service
  • Give information about risk to the service user directly, tailored to the specific analysis result and the information received from the service user

Drug analysis

Market monitoring services may or may not analyse drugs for public health purposes but this is distinct from Drug Checking services because they do not return results to service users directly and do not engage in harm reduction consultations with service users directly.

Market monitoring

Most Drug Checking services do serve a market monitoring function and the techniques in this document are valuable for organizations considering market monitoring as well.

NOT a drug checking

Analysis of human samples for the presence of drugs is not Drug Checking and analysis of seized samples is not Drug Checking, even if this information is later used for public health purposes. Drug Checking services do not analyze samples to use as evidence for prosecutions of people who use drugs. Trust is essential in engaging people who use drugs and these activities can significantly undermine trust in Drug Checking services.

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