Pioneering harm reduction drug safety testing service available in Durham

November 30, 2018

Non profit organisation The Loop will provide service as an extra layer of protection against the potentially devastating effects of drug use this festive season.

Durham will become the second UK city to offer The Loop’s pioneering Multi Agency Safety Testing (MAST) to the general public this December.

By testing substances of concern in the run up to Christmas, it is hoped that potentially dangerous substances can be identified and the public warned at what is the busiest time of the year for drug and alcohol-related hospital admissions.

The Loop – founded in 2013 by co-Director Fiona Measham, a Professor of Criminology at Durham University – has gone on to win 7 awards for welfare, innovation and excellence in the field, most recently DJ Mag’s ‘Best of British’ award for Innovation and Excellence in December 2018.

After a third successful summer of MAST at UK festivals, Durham will be the second city centre to host MAST, following Bristol which has hosted the service three times this year.

Despite the work of Durham Constabulary to break organised crime groups in the area, it is clear that some people are likely to put themselves at risk this festive season by buying and taking illegal drugs. Last week a warning was given by police about a potentially dangerous batch of drugs as three men were taken to hospital over the weekend. The Loop’s testing service provides an additional layer of harm reduction for those people by identifying what substances have been bought and providing advice directly to users embedded in information about the local illegal drug market.

Ron Hogg, the Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner for Durham said:

“I support this approach which reduces harm to drug users in order to keep people safe and prevent drug-related deaths. It gives us an idea of what is in circulation and gets it out of circulation, allowing us a level of regulation of an otherwise unregulated and harmful market.”

People can bring just one dose of any substance of concern to the Loop pop-up lab located in St Nicholas church, Market Place, between 12 noon and 6pm on Wednesday 12th December and between 12 noon and 8pm on Saturday 15th December for free and confidential forensic testing. In the first multi-agency partnership of its kind, trained Loop chemists in partnership with Durham University Department of Chemistry will carry out a range of forensic tests to determine the contents and purity of submitted substances. Results will be given to service users during a 15 minute consultation with healthcare staff, taking account of additional risk factors such as medical history and medications, use of alcohol and other substances. The service does not deem any substance to be ‘safe’, but provides otherwise unavailable information to help people make informed decisions. Warnings about specific dangerous substances will be shared via social media, allowing information from a single test to spread to others in the city and beyond.

Previously MAST has identified that one in five substances are not what people thought they bought, one in five will hand over further substances for disposal when they hear their test result and nearly half intend to take less than they otherwise planned to. With ecstasy pills containing up to 3 or more times an ‘average’ adult dose of MDMA, cocaine of a higher average purity than ever and various unpleasant and dangerous substitutes such as n-ethylpentylone being missold as MDMA and no other way to determine what a particular pill or powder contains, this specific information on local drug markets can influence the behaviour of people who have already decided to take drugs in a way that traditional ‘zero tolerance’ approaches do not.

Mike Barton, Chief Constable of Durham, said:

“I think this is a welcome initiative to deal with an unwelcome problem.

Anyone who thinks drugs are not freely available in the UK is hiding their head in the sand.

We need to know what dangerous chemicals are in those drugs which are, all too often, available and this initiative is about making it safer for people.”

Professor Fiona Measham said:

We live in the real world where, despite everything we may do to stop it, some people will take drugs and we want to help them make informed decisions about the risks involved. The Loop’s drug safety testing over the last three years shows information like this can change behaviour, reduce hospital admissions, provide valuable intelligence about drugs in circulation to alert emergency services and the wider community, and ultimately, we believe, help to reduce drug-related harm. We are grateful to Durham Constabulary, Durham University and all our partners for their support in making this happen, and especially to St Nicholas church for allowing us to reach out to the local community from their church during the festive season.”

Notes to editors:

The Loop is a non profit social enterprise established in 2013 to provide drug and alcohol advice, information, staff training and drug safety testing services. Multi Agency Safety Testing was introduced by the Loop to UK festivals in 2016.

The Loop began their pioneering harm reduction testing behind the scenes at the Warehouse Project nightclub in Manchester in 2013 and at Parklife and Kendal Calling festivals in 2014. The service was first made publicly available, with the support of police, local authorities and event management, at Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire and Kendal Calling in Cumbria in 2016. Since then, The Loop has gone from strength to strength, providing their unique free, confidential and non judgmental drug safety testing service to the general public at 7 festivals this year: Boomtown (Hampshire), Love Saves The Day (Bristol), Made Festival (Birmingham), Y Not (Derbyshire), Bestival (Dorset) and Boardmasters (Cornwall).

The Night Lives report (2018) by Henry Fisher and Fiona Measham, published by Durham University, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, Volteface and The Loop recommended the expansion of MAST from festivals to city centres:

Find out more about The Loop at:

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