Booths where people can check the purity of their drugs could be launching in a British city

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A pilot of the country's first public drug-checking service, where people can test the quality of their class-A substances, could be launching in the new year.

The free walk-in booths would appear in Preston city centre, after a similar scheme at festivals over the summer.

testing drugs
The drug-checking scheme was tried out at festivals in the summer (Steve Rolles)

The Loop, the non-profit organisation behind the service, said it could help to reduce drug-related deaths, as users can check the potency and what's actually in drugs such as ecstasy or cocaine.

Analysis by The Loop of ecstasy found on the market in Britain earlier this year revealed that some pills can contain up to triple the average dose of MDMA.

Music festivals Secret Garden Party and Kendal Calling have previously run a similar drug-testing service.

drugs in a hand
Users are often in the dark about what they are actually taking (Paul Faith/PA)

Fiona Measham, professor of criminology at Durham University and co-director of The Loop, said: "This is a pilot, as the summer festivals were, to assess how a 'front of house' forensic testing service like MAST - Multi Agency Safety Testing - could help to reduce drug-related harm.

"We will conduct the pilot, collect the evidence and evaluate its effectiveness. Whilst we know that these testing services have a very positive impact in Europe we won't know for sure in the UK unless we conduct the pilots."

She added: "The sorts of measures of success we will be looking at include: hospitalisations and other drug-related casualties, circulation of contaminants, drugs awareness in the wider population, and so forth."

Testing drugs at Secret Garden Party this summer (Steve Rolles)

Measham said the service would be operated by volunteers, who are trained in drugs testing, from a specially designed caravan or booth. Laser equipment diagnoses the drug's content, and people would then return to collect the results.

People using the service wouldn't be required to give their names, and Measham added that around 10 other festivals have shown interest in taking on the drug-testing initiative for next year.

But the scheme is still in the early stages of discussion with local police.

police
Lancashire Police said they are liaising with The Loop about the scheme launching in Preston (Dave Thompson/PA)

Chief Inspector Jon Clegg of Lancashire Constabulary said: "Multi Agency Safety Testing is a means of identifying seriously harmful substances in circulation. It is also a way for drugs workers to engage with users, and to advise them on the risks and harms of using substances, which includes psychoactive substances which are highly variable in their formulation.

"We are exploring alternative methods to highlight the risks and harms associated with taking illegal drugs and psychoactive substances, and have discussed with The Loop and local partners the possible opportunities to highlight these risks through a pilot 'drug-testing' scheme in Preston.

"We have begun the process of liaising with partner agencies to find out if it is something we would all want to consider and progress, but are at the very early stages of those discussions and no decisions have been made."