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Challenges for drug checking services in a Scottish context: a qualitative exploration of police perceptions

Falzon, Danilo; Aston, Elizabeth V.; Carver, Hannah; Masterson, Wendy; Wallace, Bruce; Sumnall, Harry; Measham, Fiona; Fletcher, Emma; Gittins, Roz; Priyadarshi, Saket; Parkes, Tessa


Danilo Falzon

Hannah Carver

Wendy Masterson

Bruce Wallace

Harry Sumnall

Fiona Measham

Emma Fletcher

Roz Gittins

Saket Priyadarshi

Tessa Parkes


The impact of policing practices on the engagement of people who use drugs (PWUD) with harm reduction services is well evidenced. Although the police have traditionally taken an enforcement role in responding to drug use, it is increasingly clear that they can play an important part in multiagency delivery of harm reduction interventions. Despite this, there have been no studies exploring police officer perceptions of drug checking services (DCS), which provide analytical testing of client drug samples alongside harm reduction support and advice.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 police officers to explore the policing and legal challenges which could be encountered in the delivery of DCS in Scotland.

Participants expressed general support for DCS and described this support as part of a wider organisational shift towards public health-oriented policing. Participants also discussed different potential approaches to the policing of areas surrounding DCS including: formal limits on police presence around the service and/or stop and search powers in relation to personal possession; the effective decriminalisation of personal possession within a specified boundary around the service; and informal agreements between local divisions and DCS outlining expected policing practices. Any formal limitation on the capacity of police officers to respond to community concerns was viewed as problematic and as having the potential to erode public confidence in policing. Participants also highlighted the potential for frontline officers to utilise discretion in ways which could undermine public health goals. Legislative change, or national strategic guidance from relevant stakeholders, was seen as a means of providing ‘cover’, enabling local divisions to support the operation of drug checking.

Despite a small sample of participants, this study summarises key challenges to be addressed in the implementation and operation of DCS in Scotland, and more widely. The paper concludes with suggested opportunities to develop approaches to policing that can facilitate rather than impede implementation and operation of these services.


Falzon, D., Aston, E. V., Carver, H., Masterson, W., Wallace, B., Sumnall, H., …Parkes, T. (2022). Challenges for drug checking services in a Scottish context: a qualitative exploration of police perceptions. Harm Reduction Journal, 19, Article 105.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 13, 2022
Online Publication Date Sep 23, 2022
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date May 30, 2022
Publicly Available Date Oct 6, 2022
Publisher BMC
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Article Number 105
Keywords drug checking, policing, criminalisation, community based, harm reduction, stop and search, public health, Scotland, qualitative, drug use
Public URL


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