SDF undertakes innovative work in drug checking

2 April 2024

Sunday 31 March was International Drug Checking Day but Scotland still lacks the drug checking services which would allow people who are going to use drugs to first check what the drugs they have been sold actually contain.   

Scottish Drugs Forum’s Living Experience work has given SDF an opportunity to support people who want their drugs checked.  Currently we are dependent on the Public Health Wales/Welsh Government project WEDINOS.  Small samples of substances can be sent to WEDINOS which does a chemical analysis and publishes the results online.   

Since March 2023, 42 samples have been sent to WEDINOS through SDF Engagement groups. Most have been street benzos and the majority have returned with Etizolam. Some samples have included diazepam and bromazolam, however etizolam appears to be the main street benzo at the moment. 

A couple of samples were bought as Xanax but tested positive for bromazolam and some samples of street benzo’s tested positive for Loratadine.   

Katy MacLeod who manages the living experience work said, ‘It’s been interesting how many people have been willing to submit samples and the interest in the results. People live with the constant concern that what they are sold may contain something unexpected.  Much of the harm caused by substance use is associated with drugs that people never intended to use. Drug checking can be the basis for opening up a conversation about risks and harms that is based in the facts of what has been found.’

SDF is also about to begin the distribution of testing strips that can detect nitazenes.  Nitazenes have been mixed into parts of the heroin and benzodiazepine supply in Scotland for some time. They have been the subject of alerts from Public Health Scotland but people using drugs have been left completely in the dark about what is in their own supply.  The testing strips will allow people to test drugs in their possession for their use and may indicate the presence of nitazenes which have been associated in other countries with fatal overdoses.   

People who are engaged with SDF’s living experience work will be offered testing strips, be trained in their use and supplied with the strips. SDF will seek feedback on whether nitazenes have been detected and encourage people to send the samples to WEDINOS for confirmation. Evaluating the acceptability of the testing strips and this approach to harm reduction messaging is also a key part of this work.   

SDF CEO Kirsten Horsburgh looks forward to the initiative, ‘This is significant.  Instead of simply informing people about the potential presence of a substance of concern we are able to empower people to find out more about the substances they use.  As long as drug supply is unregulated there will always be risks and those will be reduced through these kinds of harm reduction measures.  The testing strips will crucially offer a way to better engage people and offer practical support and advice.’