Pretty good article in Mixmag on WEDINOS, the publicly funded Welsh government service to provide definitive answers to the age old question of “what’s in this bag?” especially if you have strange results and so a very useful service and after a quick look one of the only ones in Europe.
WEDINOS is the UK’s first publicly funded drug testing service. It’s controversial, it’s not comprehensive, but it’s probably the most rational government approach to drug use for decades
Of all the problems caused by the uncontrolled, unregulated supply in recreational drugs that users face, which would you class as the worst? Would it be losing your job or your liberty if caught by the police or your employer? For some people, the shame of their family discovering they took drugs would be enough to get them disowned. Or is it economic: do you think drugs are too expensive because they have to be smuggled? Or do you have a problem with the morality of the drug trade?
It’s debatable, but by any measure, getting ill or dying because you’ve been sold something dodgy is the worst-case scenario. But imagine if you could know, with an unprecedented degree of accuracy, exactly what was in every powder or pill you bought?
Well, you can – and what’s more it’s free, legal, fast and run by the Welsh government. The service is called WEDINOS (Welsh Emerging Drugs And Identification Of Novel Substances), and its site, http://www.wedinos.org, is fast becoming an essential service for thousands of clued-up users.
One user of the service, known to us as Roma, says: “People want to know what they’re taking and to be safe (or rather, as safe as you can be on a drug). Nobody wants to get ripped off, and nobody wants to end up in hospital – or dead. Wedinos has brought quality analytical substance testing to the average person.”
Using WEDINOS (the acronym sounds like ‘after dark”, in Welsh) is fairly simple: anyone in the UK can submit samples. It’s funded by Public Health Wales and is attached to the University of Cardiff, and costs less than £100,000 a year to run. It started in October 2013, and was originally conceived by the forward-thinking Irish doctor, David Caldicott, who wanted drug users to be able to make informed choices. “It’s toxico-surveillance,” he tells us. “We’re better off knowing what is out there. And so are users.”
Since then, it has tested 1,559 samples, and 244 different drugs have been identified. The majority in the last three months were cocaine, followed by cutting agents such as caffeine, then synthetic cannabinoids, research chemicals and new drugs like mephedrone, and of course, MDMA.
On the WEDINOS site, the “sample testing” section explains how to go about submissions. You have to package the drug – which can be in powder, pill or herbal form – inside something secure and leak-proof, such as a small plastic bag. A very small amount will do. Then you download the effects form, which gives you many options to choose from. Fill it in: did you take the sample? What happened? Were the effects or unexpected? (If you haven’t taken the drug yet, leave that section blank.)
The third and most important step is to generate a reference code. Copy this to the sample and the form. Then seal it all up and send it off. Be sure the postcode you are asked to complete on the sample effects form is truthful – it need only be the first half, so your anonymity is preserved. A few days later, the Welsh chemists who run the scheme will tell you what you’ve either taken, or are about to take.
Josie Smith, current project director, explains: “WEDINOS provides individuals with a mechanism to make informed choice with objective and scientific evidence. It highlights to those who have already made the decision to use or purchase a substance what they have ingested or are considering ingesting.”
Unsurprisingly, the WEDINOS service has proved controversial among some of the media and politicians who have presided over decades of failed drugs policy. With typical hysteria, The Daily Mail said in January that the service was being used “by addicts to test the quality of their stash”. Conservative health spokesman in the Welsh Assembly, Darren Miller, told Radio 4’s Today programme in the same month that the service showed that Labour in Wales had ‘given up on drugs’, claiming dealers would use the service as a marketing tool to advertise drug purity.
His claim is also untrue, since the service does not give purity data: its results page details only the major and minor constituents of each sample, with no percentages given – that is to say, it won’t tell you if your sample is 90 per cent cocaine and 10 per cent chalk dust, or vice versa. They don’t tell you how many milligrammes of MDMA are in your pill, nor do they tell you the purity of the drugs you’ve submitted in percentage terms. But it can tell you if a pill contains the toxic substance PMA, or if a legal high bought off the net contains a weird new drug, or what cuts have been used.
The reason the service does not give you percentage data is partly political, and partly rational. Josie Smith, the current project director, told us: “Publishing samples’ purity may have encouraged some individuals to use Wedinos as a quality control tool – eg ‘This stuff is 90 per cent pure, so buy from me’.”
But why not advise on, say, a super-strong batch of heroin going around? “Highlighting a particularly high purity batch of heroin [does not] lead to a reduction in overdose or harm, in fact, quite the reverse – it leads to more people seeking the batch,” says Smith. Wedinos has, though, issued warnings when dangerous research chemicals have entered the market.
What the service does do is tell you what you have: is it amphetamine, or is it rat poison? Mephedrone or MDMA? Heroin or caffeine powder? Something that will kill you, or get you high?
The WEDINOS service is not a magic bullet: users are responsible for their own behaviour. There’s no protection for recklessness or stupidity.
“Behaviour is most definitely a key factor with any drug use, without a doubt,” agrees Roma. “Poly-drug use [combining different drugs at the same time] massively increases risk ,and isn’t really looked at in the way that it should be – especially mixing alcohol with other substances. But without knowing what you’re about to consume, ‘smart’ or ‘safe’ use can still have terrible consequences.”
Roma is realistic when he analyses the service’s main flaw: “With WEDINOS the only problem some people may have is having the patience to wait for the results.”
It’s true that many, if not most drug purchases are done on impulse, but with access to testing, cultural changes and education, more informed and relatively safer choices can be made. Perhaps not everyone will have the requisite self-control; but as long as the government leaves the supply of drugs to profit-hungry criminals, the hard-working Welsh scientists of WEDINOS are the best – the only, some might say – defence between you and the gangster-run world of drugs in the UK in 2014. Use it or lose it.
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