International Drug Checking Day March 31, 2017 – press release/statement
The International Drug Checking Day is an initiative by a diverse group of organizations that all play an active part in the delivery of harm reduction initiatives.
On the 31 st of March, we celebrate and raise awareness of drug checking. Here we mean not only the testing of substances but also hope to remind people to test their knowledge about drugs and their effects. After all, taking a drug always comes with risks. By raising awareness and sharing knowledge we hope to improve awareness of ways in which each individual and every community can reduce these risks.
Drug use is a global issue. Many people around the world ingest some kind of substance on a daily basis; from caffeine to alcohol; cocaine to heroin. Drug use has become a moral and criminal issue with legislation and regulations generally following a global model of prohibition. Prohibition has led to networks of underground markets with drugs being purchased on street corners, private homes and through the internet. The illicit drug trade spans land, air, sea and our postal system. Some distribution networks are linked to other criminal activities such as arms dealing, sex work, human trafficking and money laundering.
These clandestine markets are unregulated, with no consistent oversight or product verification, which arguably leads to increased and unnecessary risk. Quality control standards may be in place at some labs producing illicit drugs, but not others. But once these products are picked up by distribution networks, any certainty of identity or quality is lost, without independent drug checking. No standard dosage units, no list of ingredients and no information leaflet about possible side effects, interactions or ways to minimise risk from use are handed out with a score. Similarly, online pharmacies operate in legal grey zones that raise the risks of unregulated medicines reaching the public.
We know that drugs that are sold in grey and black markets are sometimes substituted, mislabeled, or contaminated. Adulterants may be used to mimic the effects of more expensive drugs and while some may be fairly benign, many can produce toxic and fatal results. Global fatalities from drug use are rising, primarily because of the opioid epidemic, while the dynamic drugs market is becoming ever more fluid in response to legislative developments that attempt to limit the proliferation of New Psychoactive Substances. Avoidable fatalities from unregulated and under-regulated drug distribution are an unfortunate part of the world, one that we can work toward trying to mitigate through drug checking.
People who take drugs recreationally or who use pharmaceuticals from less reputable sources are at increased risk of harm through consumption of pills and powders with unexpected or unknown ingredients. While the use of any drug is not entirely risk-free, having an awareness of the chemicals contained can help people make informed choices about what they are putting in their bodies, and help them to plan dosage and minimise the impact of use on their general wellbeing.
Evidence suggests that recreational drug users are less likely to engage with medical health messages. Accessing drug checking services not only allows users to find out what is in their drugs but also connects them with further harm reduction information and support services. One of the most effective ways to reduce drug-related harm is to offer users professional drug checking while taking time to inform them about health risks, safer ingestion methods, and what to do in the event of an overdose or other emergencies.
Evidence has also shown that access to drug checking services not only raises awareness of the risk of drug use but also leads to increased quality and purity of drugs being sold in that local area. National checking services allow authorities to better understand the drugs market and direct public health resources appropriately.
Why International Drug Checking Day?
We are championing the use of drug checking as a harm reduction approach and believe more people
should have the opportunity to test their drugs so they can make informed choices and reduce risk. We know that full chemical analysis of substances through GC/MS (Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry), TLC (Thin Layer Chromatography), HP-TLC (High-Performance Thin Layer Chromatography), or infra-red methods is the best way to find out what is really in your drugs. This also offers the best opportunity to connect with a professional who can offer expert harm reduction information. There is a 30-year history of drug checking in Europe with well-established test services in the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, and France. Testing on site at festivals has also begun in the UK. Drug checking programs in the United States date back to the 1960s.
We also want people to know that they can check their drugs at home using reagent test kits. These can be bought online and can give a good indication of what a substance might be. While we know there are limitations to using reagents we still believe this is a great way to reduce risk and an essential way to introduce people to find out more about harm reduction. We will also be championing the use of reagent test kits, home testing and sharing information about how to best use these kits!
What are the limitations of home reagent test kits?
Home reagent test kits work by applying a liquid chemical to a small sample of a drug in an attempt to determine its contents. There are different chemical reagents suitable for identifying different drugs. For example, a Marquis reagent can help you identify the possible presence of MDMA by turning dark blue or purple.
The color change reaction indicates the possible presence of a substance and cannot offer information about purity. If the sample + Marquis changes to a dark purple-then-brown color, then MDMA is “ruled in”. This means simply that the reagent reaction is consistent with MDMA and not, as some believe (including some law enforcement personnel trained to use these field tests), that the sample has been shown conclusively to contain MDMA.
The color reaction may not give a full picture of the ingredients present or highlight all adulterants. In the case of MDMA the color reaction is dark and would mask any color change useful for other substances (e.g. a light yellow or red reaction wouldn’t show up) so this means a sample could turn purple for MDMA but also contain other things, too.
One way to improve results is to use a series of reagents to test one batch of drugs so you can have a clearer picture of what is inside. Test kits also might not be useful for determining new and emergent substances. Visit www.reagentstesting.com to find out more about color reagent testing. To confirm the results that are indicated by reagent tests, a more involved and more expensive method of drug checking must be used.
What can you expect from us on the 31st?
We will provide a program shortly but for starters…
AMAs by experts involved in the harm reduction scene
Test kit give-aways
Tips and advice on drug checking
How to join the community and give your voice to international campaigns
How you can join us on the day
Tweet, blog, share! Got an opinion about drug checking in your area? Want to know more? Know people who would benefit from drug checking?
Join the conversation with
What organizations are taking part?
This is a partnership between global harm reduction organizations and campaigners who believe that the best way to keep people safe is for them to be informed and have access to better choices. While we can’t regulate or control the illicit drug market, drug checking offers a way to protect people who take drugs from consuming unwanted, unexpected or harmful substances.
We have confirmed support from the following organizations:
 It’s not quite accurate to paint a picture of labs with no quality standards. Labs usually do have quality control, the main risks are introduced into the system once drugs enter distribution networks.
 Brunt, Tibor M, and Raymond JM Niesink. “The Drug Information and Monitoring System (DIMS) in the Netherlands: Implementation, results, and international comparison.” Drug Testing and Analysis, September 2011: Online.
 Brunt T. M., Nagy C., Bucheli A., Martins D., Ugarte M., Beduwe C., et al. Drug testing in Europe: monitoring results of the trans-European drug information (TEDI) project. Drug Test Anal 2017; 9: 188–198.