Free regular drug-checking service to launch in Bristol by The Loop

The UK’s first regular drug-checking service is launching in Bristol this weekend, run by harm-reduction charity The Loop.

This first-of-its-kind service will run on the last Saturday of every month, in partnership with Bristol Drugs Project (BPD) and Bristol City Council. Licensed by the Home Office, the scheme will allow frequent or dependent users of drugs to check they are not contaminated with harmful cutting agents, with the aim to reduce drug-related medical incidents, overdoses and hospital admissions in the city.

“It could not come at a more important time, the adulteration risks of the illegal drug market have never been greater,” The Loop founder, Professor Fiona Measham, told the BBC. “After 12 years of preparations, evaluations and negotiations, it is fantastic that we can start the UK’s first regular drug checking service. With more cities due to follow soon, this is a landmark moment for harm reduction.”

Drug users will be able to confidentially surrender small amounts into an amnesty bin at the BDP’s headquarters – 11 Brunswick Square, BS2 8PE – in central Bristol. After the contents and strength of the drug is chemically tested in a mobile lab, which takes around an hour, service users can return to receive non-judgemental, individually tailored harm-reduction consultations with health professionals.

The drug-checking service will also signpost and support people into treatment and other local health services, where appropriate. No drugs will be returned after the service.

The rollout of the scheme comes after a delay of almost two years. The Loop was initially granted a Home Office licence for regular drug checking in March 2022 and the facility in central Bristol was ready to open, however it was delayed at the last minute by the council. The licence does not allow for non-dependent drug users to receive testing and consultations on the contents of so-called party drugs such as MDMA.

The Loop has previously ran a series of pop-up drugs testing sites, including at music festivals such as Boomtown, Parklife and Glastonbury. However, despite a recent study finding that drug-checking services at festivals improved the safety of attendees, the introduction of Home Office licences last year has made it increasingly difficult for organisers to implement on-site testing facilities.

Bristol’s new regular drug-checking service – which is set to open its doors for the first time tomorrow (Saturday 27th January) – marks a significant progressive shift in government policy.

Councillor Ellie King, cabinet lead for public health and communities, noted: “This new initiative is ultimately going to save lives... Bristol is leading the way in this innovative public health approach to keeping people safe around drugs which shows that, as a city, we put our people’s wellbeing at the forefront of decision making.”

Find out more about the new testing scheme below, and stay up-to-date with The Loop’s latest drug warnings via their social media.

A drug-checking programme implemented in Berlin last year revealed that almost half of the samples tested merited a “warning” status. These are given to drugs that are incorrectly labelled, contain impurities, or are unusually strong, according to project’s website.

Revisit Ed Gillett’s in-depth 2021 feature on the urgent necessity of the UK government adopting harm-reduction policies.