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Could party-drug testing help keep Islanders safe?

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MOMENTUM is gathering for Jersey to introduce voluntary testing of illegal drugs at music events as a ‘last line of protection’ against accidental overdoses and serious illness, it can be revealed.

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The impetus for the move comes after Islander Ashleigh Green (29) died after taking MDMA last month while the police have issued several warnings about super-strength batches of ecstasy circulating in the Island.

A new not-for-profit organisation in Jersey, backed by drug experts and health professionals, is exploring the idea which is already being implemented across the UK and Europe.

Agencies such as The Loop offer testing of illicit drugs, such as ecstasy, at music festivals and Welsh organisation WEDINOS even offer a postal service for substances to be checked for purity and cutting agents. Results and health advice is fed back to the would-be user who have the ultimate choice to take the drug or not. Substances, once issued for testing, are never given back to the would-be user.

Now senior figures in Jersey, including the head of the Youth Service, a festival organiser and the chair of the Bailiff’s entertainment panel, which issues permits for public events to take place, said they would be willing to back moves that make Islanders safer.

And in the States this week Deputy Montfort Tadier asked the Home Affairs Minister if he had or would consider introducing drug-testing schemes in Jersey.

Constable Len Norman said he did not know much about drug-testing schemes but would be ‘happy to have a conversation’.

Now a spokesman for Weekend Welfare, which is currently in the process of registering as a non-profit organisation, says research shows that as a result of drug-testing ‘many people dispose of substances when they are found to contain different ingredients to what was expected’.

He added: ‘It is, in a sense, the last line of prevention for adverse drug events.’

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Weekend Welfare was founded about a year ago with the aim to provide casual drug users with harm reduction and health advice as well as support to various Islanders about issues including alcohol, sexual health and emotional wellbeing.

The spokesman added that earlier this summer Weekend Welfare were based at a festival where several people had been taken ill after taking a super-strength Skype brand of MDMA. Staff were able to research the drug, using contacts in the UK, and offer health advice to users, their friends as well as paramedics and security staff.

He continued: ‘As a harm-reduction organisation we are supportive of multi-agency safety testing and similar drug checking initiatives as already used in several European countries. MAST [Multi Agency Safety Testing] has shown to be effective at engaging with a cohort of people who use drugs which are generally not in contact with specialist substance misuse services.

‘It also allows a space to cover specific, individually tailored drug education in an environment where people may imminently intend to use drugs. Research by The Loop has also shown many people dispose of substances, which without MAST would have arguably been taken, when they are found to contain different ingredients to what was expected.

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‘On a local scale MAST is something we have begun exploring, however the process is both complex and sensitive therefore we cannot comment further at this stage. That said, our initial scoping survey back in March showed strong support for both community and event-based MAST services. The results of the survey also yielded useful insights from the people who would potentially use MAST on how such a service could run locally.’

Ben Newman, the co-organiser of Reasons festival, said in an ideal world, no-one would feel the need to take drugs.

‘Our stance has been and is, that anything that keeps people safe has to be a good thing. What we have to guard against is not encouraging people to do something that they should not be. But from my experience of going to the UK events and seeing this in place [drug testing] I can really see the good that they do.’

Steve Cartwright, chief officer at the Bailiff’s Chambers and chair of the Bailiff’s public entertainment panel, said it was not something the panel had been approached about but if it improved safety it could be considered.

Mark Capern, the Island’s principal youth officer, said the biggest concern for young people was alcohol, rather than party drugs, but said anything that could increase safety could be beneficial.

The States police and Alcohol and Drug Service were contacted for comment.

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
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