Club drug testing ‘may be useful’ says police chief

One of the country’s leading police chiefs says recreational drug testing “may well be very useful”.

Commander Simon Bray, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for drugs, says he is in discussion with the government about it.

Front of house testing was trialled at two festivals in the UK this summer – Secret Garden Party, in Cambridgeshire, and Kendal Calling in Cumbria.

Switzerland pioneered this more open approach first.

This week London club Fabric got its licence back after losing it when two teenagers died after taking drugs in the venue.

The new licensing deal includes pledges to boost security and introduce stricter anti-drug rules.

Under-19s will be banned from entering and anyone found with drugs, or who tries to deal drugs, will be banned for life.

a pill with a scary face

Commander Bray tells Newsbeat it is complicated because of all the legal issues.

“We are not at the position where we can endorse that [open drug testing] on a national basis, because there are all sorts of factors you have to consider.

“It’s not straightforward, it can be complex.”

So tell me more about Switzerland

In Swiss cities like Bern and Zurich, clubbers can drop drugs off for testing midweek and get the results back on a Friday.

They phone a drug councillor who gives out harm reduction advice and tells them what is in their sample and its strength.

This is all part of a more relaxed view to drugs in Swiss society.

Drugs like ecstasy remain illegal in Switzerland but attitudes to small personal possession are more relaxed.

Where testing happens, the police appear to turn a blind eye.

In Switzerland harm reduction is one of the key parts of national drug policy and testing is part of that.

Relatively, the UK has more than twice as many drug deaths as Switzerland.

A client drops his ecstasy pill for testing

Image caption A client drops off an ecstasy pill for testing

At the lab in Bern, Newsbeat witnessed a pill being tested which turned out to be very strong.

Getting it analysed meant he was making a more informed choice, said the user.

“I have come so that I know that I don’t take anything that is bad for me.

“I know when you take ecstasy it is not good for your body, but you don’t have to overdo it.

“As long as I know it’s ecstasy and not something different I am cool with it, because I already know the risk.”

A man with drug samples on a desk

Image caption There were 14 samples of drugs handed in

Nicola Schneider runs Hive Club in Zurich and he says it’s better that his customers have more information.

“I think it is very good for people that if they take something, they know if it is very strong and don’t take too much.”

A pill tested at the lab

Critics say that open testing encourages people to take illegal drugs.

The UK has trialled some drug testing during the 2016 festival season but widespread testing in British clubs is unlikely.

“Drugs are illegal where there is scientific and medical evidence that they are harmful to health and society,” a Home Office spokesman told Newsbeat.

“No drug taking can be assumed to be safe.

“We must prevent drug use in our communities and help dependent individuals to recover, while ensuring our drugs laws are enforced.

“While operational decisions are a matter for chief constables the government expects the police to enforce the law.”

Secret Garden Party

Image caption Secret Garden Party ran a pilot scheme where festival goers could drop off drugs for testing

However, Newsbeat has learned that the Home Office has spoken to senior police chiefs about the pilot schemes at Secret Garden Party and Kendal Calling.

“We are certainly in plenty of discussion with them,” Commander Simon Bray explains.

“I am going to bring together a group of people with expertise and I think there is a lot to discuss.

“We need to get a move on and have a look at how 2016 went.”

Back in Switzerland the message is clear: the experts tell us they cannot recall a recent death connected to ecstasy.

the pill is looked at on a screen

Zurich has a collection of night mayors – people who represent the city’s clubbing scene.

London recently appointed a similar figure.

Alex Bucheli is responsible for health and that includes harm reduction.

“Drug testing is something that is integrated in the whole approach.

“We start with the website with information about samples and alerts, with staff training, working together with the police and hospital workers.

“It is important to work together to make the nightlife pleasurable and more healthy than it can be when you don’t do this.”

You can find help and advice on ecstasy and MDMA via these BBC Advice pages.

Watch on BBC iPlayer: WNewsbeat’s documentary: Clubs, Drugs and Saving Lives

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