Our #KnowYourHigh campaign aims to provide information and support on how to reduce harm when taking drugs. Our primary objective is to raise awareness about the availability of drug checking services throughout Wales and the United Kingdom. By educating individuals about these services, we aim to equip them with the knowledge to make safer choices and reduce the potential risks associated with consuming unregulated substances.
In addition, our campaign provides comprehensive harm reduction tips for those who intend to use substances. The campaign will primarily be disseminated on all our social media channels.
The core aim of drug-checking services is to reduce the potential harms associated with drug use by offering individuals the opportunity to have substances of concern tested for their composition and, in some cases, potency. Alongside the test results, these services also provide personalised harm reduction advice, ensuring that individuals receive tailored guidance to minimising risks and promote safer substance use practices.
Drug checking is a valuable harm reduction tool. It can help to reduce the risk of overdose, injury, and death by providing people with accurate information about the drugs they are using because of an unregulated market. It can also help to build trust between people who use drugs and the healthcare system and promote safer drug use practices and reduce drug-related harms for individuals and the wider society.
Over ½ disposed of substances identified as other than what they had bought or expected, thereby reducing the risk of poisoning.
Nearly ½ reduced their dosage and extended their consumption periods, thereby reducing the risk of overdose. (Drug science)
Cocaine and MDMA crystal were consistently very high purity and ¾ of pills contained more than an average adult dose of 120mg MDMA. (The Loop)
Image: A drug alert published by The Loop based on the results of samples they tested at a public event
Drug checking has a significant and extensive history that can be traced back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. Initially, the emergence of drug checking services took place in the United States and the Netherlands, primarily focusing on analysing street drugs to identify harmful contaminants. In the 1980s, a second wave of drug checking services arose in Europe, with a specific emphasis on analysing ecstasy and other party drugs for purity and potency. More recently, a third wave of drug checking services has emerged in various regions such as the UK, Australasia, North and South America, in response to the escalating issue of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS).
Despite the extensive history of drug checking, certain countries perceive it as a form of drug legislation, leading to its prohibition or strict regulation. In some cases where it is legal, drug checking remains politically sensitive or controversial. Consequently, non-profit organisations usually take the responsibility of operating these drug checking services.
The drug market operates through an ongoing exchange of supply and demand, resulting in a sizable and highly profitable black market. Unregulated drug markets often yield substance samples with unpredictable and varying contents. The actual composition of substances acquired from these unregulated markets remains largely unknown, posing a risk to users. Substances may contain adulterants or unknown compounds that can lead to severe negative health outcomes. The lack of oversight and quality control in unregulated drug markets represents a significant individual and public health threat. Understanding these risks and the need for regulation is essential for promoting safer substance use practices and minimising harm.
In January 2023, Wedinos reported various samples to contain other substances than what was initially believed. For example, a significant amount of what was thought to be diazepam actually contained other benzodiazepines such as Bromazepam, a substance believed to be more toxic. The adulteration of drugs did not stop there, with cocaine samples found to contain alprazolam and amphetamine samples containing caffeine instead. This highlights the uncertainty around what the contents are in a variety of substances and therefore increases the risk and harm to those that use substances that are unregulated.
Reagent kits serve as a highly accessible method for drug checking. They function by generating colour changes when exposed to various drugs. These colour reactions can then be compared to a reference chart, enabling users to determine if their sample aligns with their intended substance. However, initially interpreting the results may require some practice, but with experience, most individuals find it easier over time.
It’s important to note that reagent kits have limitations. While they can indicate the presence of a specific drug, they do not provide information about the purity or dosage of the tested substance. For example, if you test a pill suspected to contain MDMA and receive an “as expected” result (suggesting that the sample likely matches your expectation), you still won’t know the precise dosage, such as whether it contains 100mg or 300mg of MDMA.
WEDINOS, which stands for the Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances Project, is an organisation that provides comprehensive testing for a wide range of substances. They offer a straightforward process whereby you simply need to print and complete a short form, send it to them along with a small sample of the substance you want to be analysed, and await the results. Typically, it takes approximately one week for the results to be published on their website, and you can easily identify your specific results by cross-referencing the provided reference number. To ensure timely receipt of your results, it is advisable to send your sample well in advance of your intended usage.
The service is completely anonymous, ensuring your privacy throughout the process. Furthermore, it is worth highlighting that WEDINOS provides this service free of charge, with the exception of the cost of postage.
However, it’s important to note that while WEDINOS can identify the major and minor components of the sample, they cannot determine the purity or dosage of your drugs. Nevertheless, by analysing the results, you will gain valuable insight into the specific substances used as additives or diluents in your cocaine, enabling you to have a clearer understanding of its composition.
Multi-Agency Safety Testing (MAST) / Drug Checking
Drug checking services offer a highly informative approach to testing substances, where individuals submit a sample for analysis. Renowned organisations such as The Loop provide these services in the UK.
Among various testing methods, drug checking is regarded as the most accurate and precise. Unlike other approaches, it not only discloses the composition of the tested drugs but also provides valuable information about the quantity of specific substances present. This knowledge is crucial as it empowers individuals to make informed decisions regarding the appropriate dosage to consume. By having access to such detailed information, individuals can better manage potential risks and engage in harm reduction practices.
Drug checking offers numerous benefits that address various stakeholders and contribute to improving health and well-being in the context of substance use. Some of these benefits include:
Meeting shared needs: Drug checking acknowledges a common need among people who use substances, their caregivers, and even those involved in the substance market. By providing accurate and reliable information about the substances being consumed, drug checking can benefit all these groups.
Enhancing quality control: In unregulated markets, drug checking plays a vital role in ensuring quality control. By analysing the composition and purity of substances, it helps identify potential contaminants or adulterants, thereby reducing the risks associated with consuming unknown or unsafe substances.
Creating healthier environments: Drug checking contributes to the creation of healthier environments by promoting informed decision-making and reducing harm. By providing individuals with information about the substances they intend to use, it enables them to make more educated choices and take appropriate precautions.
Mediating substance use policies: Drug checking can play a role in shaping and mediating policies related to substance use. By providing evidence-based data on drug composition and trends, it assists policymakers in making informed decisions that prioritise public health and safety.
Reaching underserved populations: Drug checking programs offer an opportunity for public health initiatives to engage with individuals who use drugs and may not access traditional services, such as HIV testing. By providing a non-judgmental and accessible avenue for engagement, drug checking can extend the reach of public health programs and connect with individuals who may otherwise remain unengaged.
Assisting in emergencies: In drug-related incidents or emergencies, drug checking provides vital information that enables medical and welfare services to respond promptly and effectively. By quickly identifying the substances involved, medical professionals can provide targeted treatment, potentially saving lives and minimising harm.
Promoting harm reduction and safety: The information gathered through drug checking can be disseminated via various channels, including social media and early warning systems. This helps raise awareness about specific drugs, potential risks, and harm reduction strategies, ultimately reducing drug-related harm and preventing major public safety incidents.
Overall, drug checking services offer a comprehensive approach that goes beyond individual testing, addressing public health concerns, informing policies, and empowering individuals to make safer and more informed choices regarding substance use.