As the street drug supply is unregulated and unpredictable, community drug checking helps people who use drugs have a better idea of what substances are in the drugs they use. When people have a better idea of what’s in their drugs, they can make more informed choices about their use and can take steps to reduce harm. StreetCheck is a free, web-based platform and app service provided through the Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream (MADDS) Project to help inform harm reduction agencies and public health authorities about local trends in the drug supply. This in turn can lead to better-informed public health and public safety policies and responses. The project began in Massachusetts, connects sites in the Northeast, and welcomes community partners throughout the country.
StreetCheck includes the website and helpful resources as well as a portal for accessing partner-specific community drug checking data. The StreetCheck app is available for free to help programs conduct and organize community drug checking activities and can be customized to the local drug checking program and lab partner set up.
Community programs that are part of MADDS use a combination of testing processes that are complementary to one another. We start by using fentanyl and sometimes benzodiazepine test strips and pH strips. Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy testing is also available to provide more comprehensive results, typically identifying up to 6 components of a given sample. FTIR results are available within 15 minutes to 48 hours of receiving a sample, depending on the program’s specific operations. Samples are then sent off for additional laboratory testing using gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy (GC/MS), with the most comprehensive results provided within 2-3 weeks of when the sample is received.
For more information on submitting a drug sample through StreetCheck, see how to Submit a Sample.
THE HISTORY OF DRUG CHECKING
Drug checking is commonly associated with the music and nightlife scene of the 1990s, although the service has its roots as far back as the 1960s.
Participants at music and dance events could submit a small sample of the drugs they planned to take for the night and within minutes learn if certain substances were present in their drugs. The original process used for this service was reagent testing, which can be done with minimal training.
From reagent testing grew the use of handheld or desktop spectrometry devices, which measure the density of different substances to identify the likely components of a sample, with results potentially available immediately. To gain even more insight and a more comprehensive understanding of drug components, testing at festivals and other events then grew into lab testing, which takes longer but provides a more detailed analysis of the components in a sample.
Since the rise of synthetics like fentanyl in the opioid supply became a major concern, urine test strips, especially fentanyl and benzodiazepine test strips, have been re-appropriated for testing drug samples. Within minutes, results show whether the substance being tested for is present in the drug sample.
TYPES OF DRUG CHECKING
The original drug testing technique used at festivals and other music and dance events was reagent testing. In this process, liquid drops called reagents are applied to the sample, and resulting color changes indicate which of a variety of substances are present. Reagent testing is limited in that each reagent can only test for one or a few specific substances.
Urine test strips have been re-appropriated more recently for testing drug samples [image]. With these test strips, a small sample of the drug can be mixed into a small amount of water and the test strip placed in the mixture until it’s saturated. Within minutes, results show whether the substance being tested for is present in the drug sample. Like reagent testing, however, these are limited to one or a few specific substances. The most common kinds of test strips are for fentanyl (and some analogues) and for benzodiazepines.
Spectroscopic techniques measure the density of different substances to identify the likely components of a sample. Spectroscopic testing requires more training than reagent testing but provides a more detailed analysis and breakdown of what is in the sample. Results may be available immediately when someone with training views the results. These devices vary in size from hand-held or desktop spectrometers, such as Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy to larger devices used in laboratory testing.
There are different forms of laboratory testing, including gas chromatography/mass spectrometry GC/MS, which detects the ratio of components of the sample based on the mass of substances present.
While most laboratory partners engaged in community drug checking use GC/MS testing, other partner labs analyze samples also use liquid chromatography quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LC-QToF-MS). LC-QToF-MS is newer than GC/MS and allows for improved sensitivity and quantification of components in a sample.
These and other forms of spectroscopic testing provide a more comprehensive overview of what components are present in drugs by comparing the mass of the components in a sample with spectra made from pharmaceutical grade standards.
For more information on drug checking, check out the following list. Resources included on this list are for informational purposes only. Only those marked with (*) are affiliated with StreetCheck and the MADDS Project.
The British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) provides drug-checking services with organizations around British Columbia, Canada.
Center for Forensic Science Research & Education* collaborates with public health agencies, including MADDS, to collect updated results on components found in the drug supply across the US.
DanceSafe started out providing drug checking at events and has since grown to manufacture and distribute home-testing kits and provide laboratory testing.
The Drug Policy Alliance works to address drug laws and policies in the US with a harm reduction focus.
Erowid Center's DrugsData* conducts copay-supported laboratory drug checking for the public, as well as to research partners. Samples are submitted through the mail and results are published online.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction uses evidence-based information to support policy making in the European Union.
The Transform Drug Policy Foundation works to improve drug laws and policies in the United Kingdom with a focus on harm reduction.