Here at the Students' Union, students are at the centre of everything we do. It is important to us that we take student voice on board and stay progressive whilst understanding your needs effectively and that is why our Welfare and Support Centre has a dedicated area on harm reduction to support you on harm reduction. Below we have outlined some of the ways that you can either access reagent drug-testing packs, as well as ways in which you can support yourself in ensuring you are practicing your own harm reduction choices.
At the Welfare & Support Centre (Ground floor of the Students' Union) we welcome students to drop in to chat, get information for local services, as well to receieve a range of resources to help support your wellbeing. One of the services offered is a Drug and Alcohol Drop-In Clinic. NUSU has partnered with Public Health Newcastle to offer a confidential space to chat and get support on your drug or alcohol use. This is a free, non-judgemental service open to all Newcastle students.
What is Harm Reduction?
At its core, harm reduction acknowledges that while improper use of substances carries a level of risk there are ways of reducing the likelihood that harm will occur. Our adoption of a policy of harm reduction is not intended to signal that substance use is safe, but to recognise that there are behaviors that actively increase the risk of harm. Instead, a policy of harm reduction recognises that education about these dangers and the availability of support can make it safer. It demonstrates a willingness to protect the health and wellbeing of all our students, not only those always making the safest choices.
Harm reduction refers to policies, programmes, and practices that aim to minimise negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies, and drug laws. It is grounded in justice and human rights - it focuses on positive change and on working with people without judgment, coercion, discrimination, or requiring that they stop using drugs as a precondition of support. It can be contrasted with primary prevention which tries to prevent people from using drugs in the first place or to stop them from using once they’ve started.
Disclaimer: All Drug-Use carries risk
Newcastle University Students’ Union does not condone or encourage the improper use of substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. NUSU maintains that this behavior will always carry some risk of harm to students. However, NUSU does acknowledge that students living in a vibrant city will likely find themselves in new situations and faced with new decisions. NUSU understands that it is unlikely that all students will always make the safest decision all of the time.
While there is not a completely “safe” way to use controlled substances there are ways that increase the risk of harm. NUSU believes that a zero-tolerance policy can hinder engagement with services and information that may otherwise reduce the risk of this harm occurring. Our approach is therefore based on the principles of harm reduction and the belief that informed decisions can reduce the incidence of higher risk behaviors by students.
The materials made available by NUSU do not constitute or replace medical advice. Students are also reminded that substance use may not only put their health at risk but could result in them committing criminal offenses under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. The NUSU’s approach to harm reduction provides no defense to the criminal law. As our work progresses we wanted to make sure students can get the help and information they might need. Below is a useful list of external resources and organisations, all are non-judgmental services, and most are dedicated to reducing harm within drug use.
Accessing Testing Kits
The packs provided by Reagent Tests UK are used to test ketamine, MDMA, and cocaine. They will have all the information you need to understand how to use them and remember that you can email them if you need to chat about anything. We won’t ask you for your personal details in order to take a pack but we will monitor the pack distribution and might have a welfare chat if we think this would be helpful.
Kits should be stored upright in a cool place. They last about 6 months or 12 months in the fridge.
You can access a drug test kit from Reagent UK using the link below. If you need other tests which the university does not provide, such as for LSD, they are available from www.reagent-tests.uk with the code newcastleSU for 5% off. Before you do order a test kit, please read through the FAQs further down this page provided by Reagent UK so that you can make an informed decision. You can get in touch with Reagent UK directly by emailing email@example.com with any queries before, during or after testing.
What is reagent testing?
We all know that using drugs carries risks. People do die from using drugs, sometimes even when those drugs have been prescribed by a doctor. With recreational drugs there is an even greater risk of harm as they are not prescribed with advice from a doctor, often mixed with other drugs, and sold in a market that is run without quality control. As profit is often a very significant motivator for those selling drugs, there may be an incentive to pass off a cheaper drug as something else, even when the cheaper drug is more dangerous. If buyers are able to identify such occurrences they can avoid using unscrupulous vendors and avoid unnecessarily increasing the risks they are exposed to by using drugs. We can’t stop people from using drugs (society has been trying for 45 years!) but we can stop people from dying.
That’s where reagent testing comes in. Reagent tests are chemical compounds that change to different colours when exposed to different drugs, which allows us to get an idea about whether the substance in question is the one it was sold as. Because there are only 8-16 colours that are easily distinguished by the human eye, 2-4 different reagents are used to check a compound. If any of the reagents give an unexpected result then the compound may be adulterated or something else entirely, and should not be taken.
For example, MDMA typically gives a purple-black result with the “marquis reagent”. Eutylone is much cheaper and shorter-lasting and sometimes sold in its place as it looks very similar. Because eutylone turns yellow with the marquis reagent it is easy to detect when it has been substituted. Situations like this have great potential to cause harm, but with reagents, they are incredibly easy to prevent.
When is reagent testing most useful?
Substitution of one substance for another has the potential to cause disproportionate amounts of harm compared to mixing in cutting agents and diluents.
Substitution is extremely easy to detect with reagents because the reaction will simply give a different colour. While it may not always be possible to fully identify the impostor substance, it is immediately clear that the risk level is different from the original expectation.
Limitations of reagent testing
If multiple drugs are mixed together then, much like mixing paint, the dominant colour will be the most visible. This means that it may be hard to tell if a very small amount of one compound is mixed with a large amount of another one. Most “MDMA” in the UK is either pure or something else entirely, so in practice this does not tend to be an issue, but it’s important that you don’t treat a good reagent test as a reason to not be careful – even pure drugs are dangerous!
There are advanced testing techniques that can be used to mitigate these limitations, such as separating visually different particles in a mixture or observing for inhomogeneity in the reaction result. Solid reagent tests immobilise hotspots of chemicals in a mixture, hindering colour mixing and making it easier to spot crystal mixtures that are not homogenous.
When is reagent testing not useful?
Reagent tests are extremely useful tools for tackling the specific risks of mis-selling. Mis-selling immediately creates an unexpected risk and the unexpected nature of the risk creates a large probability for harm, even if the drug itself has risks that people could manage if they knew the identity of the drug. This makes reagents a superb Harm Reduction tool.
However, reagents can’t prevent all the risks associated with using drugs, such as:
- Choosing to mix multiple different drugs (including alcohol)
- Intentionally taking too much of a drug
- Accidentally taking too much of a drug (because the amount was not measured)
- Accidentally taking too much of a drug (because the substance was purer than the person was used to)
- Taking recreational drugs while using prescribed medication
- Interactions of recreational drug use with medical issues
- Addiction and dependence
- Risks that are specific to certain drugs, such as bladder issues from heavy ketamine use, or cancer risk from alcohol.
All of these risks need to be considered by a person using drugs alongside knowing which substance they are taking. Some of these risks are harder to tackle than the simple act of detecting a mis-sold drug.