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

Danilo Falzon (Lead / Corresponding author), Elizabeth V. Aston, Hannah Carver, Wendy Masterton, Bruce Wallace, Harry Sumnall, Fiona Measham, Emma Fletcher, Rosalind Gittins, Saket Priyadarshi, Tessa Parkes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


Background: 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.

Methods: 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.

Results: 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.

Conclusions: 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105
Number of pages15
JournalHarm Reduction Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sept 2022


  • Harm Reduction
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Pharmaceutical Services
  • Police
  • Public Health
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Policing
  • Scotland
  • Qualitative
  • Community based
  • Harm reduction
  • Criminalisation
  • Stop and search
  • Drug checking
  • Drug use
  • Public health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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