In Depth

Should festival-goers be allowed to drop off their drugs for testing?

Police chief says recreational drugs assessment could be 'very useful' but is tricky legally

A UK police chief says that providing facilities for recreational drug users to have pills analysed before taking them could be "very useful", if difficult legally.

It's an approach already taken in Switzerland, Austria and other countries – but could it be adopted in the UK?

How does drugs testing work?

In Switzerland, says the BBC, clubbers buying drugs before a weekend can drop a sample off for testing. A drugs counsellor then tells them what their sample is made from and how strong it is. The counsellor also offers "harm reduction advice".

Have the Swiss legalised recreational drugs?

No. While they have a "more relaxed view", and lower penalties for possession, the Swiss still ban drugs like ecstasy, says the BBC, adding: "Where testing happens, the police appear to turn a blind eye."

What is proposed for the UK?

Drugs testing was trialled at two festivals in the UK this summer: the Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire and Kendal Calling in Cumbria. At these events, a "front of house" approach gave festival-goers an almost instant analysis of their recreational drugs.

Has anything similar happened before?

In 2013, after one man died and 13 people were hospitalised because of drug use at the Warehouse Project, a Manchester club, real-time drugs testing was trialled there. The tests were done on drugs confiscated from clubbers, or handed in anonymously under an amnesty. Dangerous results were then relayed to all clubbers by social media and a sign in the club.

What do the police say?

Commander Simon Bray of the Metropolitan Police, who is in charge of drugs policy for the National Police Chiefs' Council, says that testing "may well be very useful". But he adds: "We are not at the position where we can endorse [open drug testing] on a national basis, because there are all sorts of factors you have to consider. It's not straightforward; it can be complex."

So will drugs testing be adopted here?

"Unlikely", says the BBC. But Bray did confirm there had been "plenty of discussion" between the police and Home Office over the pilot schemes.

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