Saving lives: Bristol’s drug checking service

We have to deal with the way the world is, not as we want it to be. That especially true at a city level, when we have to pragmatically take on challenges and causes of harm in our communities and look for solutions. That’s why I am proud Bristol will become the first UK city to host a regular drug checking service.

We know we have drug use problem in Bristol, with higher-than-average number of drug deaths. Every one is a tragedy. Last year we sadly saw another fatality and several people hospitalised when using a suspected lethal batch of drugs in the Bristol area. Deputy Mayor Craig Cheney spoke at cabinet (from 36:34) about the loss of his own friends to drug use and how we cannot underestimate the impact of these avoidable deaths.

Drug checking services provide a vital opportunity for people to access accurate, timely, and relevant information to make more informed decisions about drugs. Service users give their substances for laboratory analysis by chemists and then discuss the results as part of a personalised health consultation with a health professional. As Councillor Ellie King explained, this isn’t about condoning drug use, but informing people and keeping them safe.

It’s important that we don’t ignore the fact that drug use is happening and take an outdated approach to this subject. 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.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that there are people who will have concerns about this approach, and some may have questions about how it might directly impact their communities. We’ll work with the service provider to make sure they consider local people as part of their approach, working pro-actively to try to prevent drug-related issues compounding for individuals, families, and communities. After all, the dogmatic approach that says drugs can be eliminated from our city, with a “war on drugs” that is somehow winnable through attrition, has been proved unrealistic. This service, alongside the proposed one-on-one trained healthcare consultations, will empower people to make safer, informed decisions which will reduce harm to users and save lives.

Drug checking services have operated successfully across Europe for four decades, and we have already piloted this work at events and know that they protect people. Meanwhile, we continue to lobby national Government to enable us to pilot safe drug consumption rooms in our city.

Bristol is leading the way in this public health approach to keeping people safe around drugs and shows that, as a city administration, we put our people’s wellbeing at the forefront of pragmatic decision making.