Bristol could become the first UK city to host drug testing services on a regular basis.
If plans are approved by Bristol City Council’s cabinet, the city could host 15 free drug testing services over 12 months. The proposed service would offer users a chance to submit a sample of a substance and receive the results from a forensic analysis, detailing the content and purity of a given substance.
In 2018, a pop-up recreational drug testing service went to Stokes Croft for a weekend and that same year non-profit The Loop became the first publicly-available drugs testing service in any UK city when it piloted in Bristol. Then, in 2020, the University of Bristol starting giving students free kits to test their drugs.
In a statement, Bristol City Council said: “Illicit substances often consumed at festivals or other events can be tested, with testing proven to both save lives and impact on people’s drug taking behaviours. Completely confidential and free to access, the proposed service is due to be discussed and decided on by Bristol’s Cabinet on Tuesday, May 10.
“If approved the service would open its doors for the first time on May 28 and would also operate before significant local events.”
Last summer, Bristol health chiefs said one person died and 20 were hospitalised in one weekend. This prompted city leaders to issue an urgent safety warning following the spate of health-related incidents linked to ‘extremely strong’ drugs in Bristol.
Their warning came after a similar alert from Bristol nightclub Motion regarding “extremely strong” blue pills emblazoned with the word “Tesla”. A coroner then found a 19-year-old died in hospital due to the “acute toxic effects of MDMA”.
Councillor Ellie King, cabinet lead for Public Health, Communities, and Bristol One City said: “A cornerstone of our drug and alcohol strategy is our aim to monitor and consider new approaches to reducing the harm from illicit substance use.
“These proposals put forward an innovative approach to saving lives and reducing harm to our communities, and naturally align with our strategic aims. It’s important that we don’t ignore the fact that drug use is happening and take a two-dimensional approach to this subject.
“Whilst this service doesn’t take anything away from work underway to support those with substance addictions, it will provide communities with access to factual, scientific, evidence-based information about drugs they may consume and that may be in circulation throughout the wider city. This, alongside the proposed one-on-one trained healthcare consultation, will empower people to make safer, informed decisions.
“Bristol is leading the way in this public health approach to keeping people safe around drugs and shows that, as a city, we put our people’s wellbeing at the forefront of decision making. I look forward to discussing this proposal with the Mayor and Cabinet colleagues in our meeting in May.”
Last year, council leaders approached the Government for permission to make Bristol a pilot project for drug consumption rooms. But they received a knockback after the Home Office insisted anyone running “safe rooms” to inject banned substances under supervision would be “committing a range of offences including possession of a controlled drug and being concerned in the supply of a controlled drug”.
Mr Rees has previously welcomed a “city conversation” to explore the idea, which is listed as a potential solution to the drug problem in Bristol’s five-year drug and alcohol strategy, drawn up by the local authority, health chiefs and police, but it would require a change in the law.