THE options for rolling out Scotland’s first drug checking services (DCS) have been laid out by academics.

As part of efforts to reduce high levels of drug-related deaths in the country, the Scottish Government is currently exploring the implementation of DCS as a harm reduction measure.

The services, which run successfully in many countries in Europe as well as in Canada and Australia, allow individuals to submit drug samples for analysis before receiving feedback and counselling.

Experts at the University of Stirling, funded by the Scottish Drugs Death Taskforce, found that demand for DCS was high in three different pilot areas in Scotland: Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow.

The three pilot cities are all working towards applying for Home Office licences which are required to run these services.

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The first permanent, licenced DCS in England opened in Bristol last month. 

The free service is being delivered by drug-testing charity The Loop alongside the Bristol Drugs Project and Bristol City Council. 

The Scottish research ran between January 2021 and May 2023 and was conducted by the University of Stirling in close collaboration with Edinburgh Napier University, Public Health Scotland, NHS Tayside, and harm reduction charity Crew.

The study found that there was a preference for fixed-sites run by third sector organisations, with active community dialogue and non-judgmental staff.

Those interviewed as part of the project – which included people with experience of drug use, family members, and people working within the NHS, police and third sector organisations – said people with lived experience of drug use should be involved in the planning, running and delivery of DCS.

Concerns about the level of trust in frontline staff and the police response to DCS more generally were raised, with confidence in confidentiality highlighted as a major pillar of success.

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Dr Hannah Carver, of the University of Stirling, said: “Our results show that drug checking services in Scotland need to be adaptable to local needs.

“There clearly isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. People will also want a quick turnaround of results and trusted and knowledgeable staff. It is essential to include key stakeholders in the planning of the services, including those with experience of drug use.”

Professor Tessa Parkes, who led the study, added: “Research into the community dynamics surrounding fixed site drug checking services is limited, so this study is important in understanding the desired outcomes, challenges and potential barriers, and ways to move forward.

“The fear of being charged by police when accessing drug checking services was high among the people we spoke to who had experience of using drugs.

“And although the police officers we interviewed were generally supportive of DCS, our findings suggest that strong messaging and assurances are needed about DCS and policing at national as well as local levels.”

It comes ahead of the pilot launch of a safe drug consumption facility in Glasgow later this year.

The National has previously told how a professor at the University of Stirling urged caution when measuring the success of the facility, highlighting that it will not be a “silver bullet for drug-related deaths”.