Drug checking research project commences at Uniting’s Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) 

A new time limited drug checking research project at Uniting’s Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC), for registered MSIC clients, gets underway today. It’s expected to run for 4 months. 

A specialist drug and alcohol clinician and analytical chemist from The Loop Australia will attend MSIC once a week to allow those intending to use drugs, who wish to have them tested, to do so – and then give them access to analysis results alongside targeted harm reduction advice.  

Emma Maiden, Uniting NSW.ACT’s General Manager of Advocacy & External Relations, said: “Giving people more information about the drugs they are planning to take can only be a good thing. 

If we see long term Injecting Centre clients having conversations with a specialist about what’s in the drugs they are taking because of drug checking it is worth it.   

“If those MSIC clients decide to behave differently because they have credible information about what is in the substance – it is worth it,” Emma said. 

MSIC’s Medical Director Dr Marianne Jauncey said: “This research project is the first drug checking service to operate in NSW. 

“It will allow us to investigate the impact of providing detailed analysis information and related advice to our clients here at MSIC. 

“It will also improve monitoring of the street drug marketplace so that unexpected or highly dangerous substances may be identified earlier, ideally before people use them. 

“Overseas, especially in North America, we have seen what happens when new and highly dangerous substances infiltrate illicit drug markets, and we want to do whatever we can to avoid this happening here. 

“NSW has justification for concern, with drug markets being increasingly unpredictable post-COVID. The number of drug alerts in NSW is at an all-time high. 

“We hope this research helps progress the conversation around the state about drug checking as an appropriate and sensible response to help keep people safe and well,” Dr Jauncey said.  

Dr Robert Page, Chief Investigator at The Loop said: “This research project is very much in response to calls from a large number of bodies – including the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug ‘Ice’, the National Centre for Clinical Research on Emerging Drugs (NCCRED); and the RACP and RACGP – for the implementation and assessment of community-based drug checking services in NSW.  

“We will provide access to a small, focused pilot drug checking service for people who inject drugs at MSIC. In previous research this group has clearly described wanting to know much more about what is in the drugs that they use, and they have guided us on how such a service may best serve MSIC clients.  

“We will investigate the impact of providing detailed analysis information and related advice to MSIC clients. 

“This project will hopefully be a small part of the identification and warning systems that will allow information about identified drugs to be provided to at-risk populations, as well as enhancing the overall public health response,” Dr Page said. 

Megan, one of the first participants in the MSIC onsite drug checking research project said: “The testing process itself is very simple and quick. 

“When I was told the contents of the sample I had provided, I realised something astonishing – throughout the entire 20 years of my substance use history, in all the countless times I have self-administered drugs – this was the first time ever that I actually knew for certain what I was going to inject into my body.  

“Drug testing is such a straightforward way to get information that could save lives and keep people safe,” Megan said. 

Background: 

  • This research is being funded by not-for-profit organisation, The Loop Australia, with initial seed grant funding from NCCRED and support from The University of New South Wales (UNSW). 
  • Drug checking services have operated internationally for over four decades and currently operate in over twenty countries.  
  • These services allow people who may intend to use drugs to have substances tested prior to use, and to access analysis results alongside targeted harm reduction advice.  
  • The use of such services overseas has been associated with impacts on substance use and harm reduction behaviour that are likely to lead to safer decision-making, have allowed the early detection of changes in drug market patterns and improved local and public health responses, and have facilitated the delivery of alerts to early warning systems.  
  • However, in Australia access to drug checking services has been extremely limited and either localised to festival populations or testing for a limited range of substances. As such, there is a significant knowledge gap around the feasibility and potential utility of delivering such a service for people who inject drugs in Australia.  
  • During this pilot, surveying participants and analysing substances on and off-site will allow for an assessment of the potential utility of such a service, as well as providing access to valuable information about the local illicit drug market.   
  • Recruitment is entirely voluntary and limited to registered clients of MSIC (maximum 100) who after informed consent will provide a small quantity of their pre-obtained substance for testing. The sample provided is not returned to the client.  
  • No new laws needed to be passed, and no change in government policy was required – this is a research project. 
  •  A specific disclaimer is read to every client detailing the limitations of the testing. 
  •  They will complete a short survey and engage in a discussion with the specialist drug and alcohol clinician and chemist who will explain test results and implications.  
  • The provided sample will be sent off for confirmatory testing at the NSW Health Pathology Forensic & Analytical Science Service (FASS). 
  • This research will take place at MSIC on one afternoon a week.