Agency backs drug-test kits

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The Independent Online
A NATIONAL drugs agency yesterday defended the use of kits to test ecstasy and other illegal substances after the Government's drug "czar" criticised them as "immoral" and called for them to be banned.

Keith Hellawell, the UK Drugs Co-ordinator, reacted angrily to the news that a company was selling the kits for as little as pounds 5 to people who wanted to check pills and powders before buying them.

The devices are sold by at least two firms - the Green Party and a private company - and can detect several drugs, including pure ecstasy or MDMA, amphetamine and a hallucinogen called 2CB. The substances are identified by pouring a chemical on to a tiny amount of the drug, which changes colour and be compared with an identification chart.

Mr Hellawell said he wanted the kits banned "because they give people a false sense of security. They do not make ecstasy or any other drug less dangerous. It seems to be an immoral money-making venture."

But Mike Goodman, director of Release, the national drug and legal organisation, disagreed. "We believe these testing kits should be made available to young people. It's a pragmatic measure and has some benefit in reducing the amount of rogue drugs taken and allows people to have a better idea of what they taking."

However, he warned: "These kits are not a panacea - they don't tell you the strength of the drug, or what impurities are present. It should be used as part of a risk reduction policy."

One of the kits, known as Easy Test, which went on sale a couple of months ago via mail order and the Internet, has already sold about 2,000 at pounds 5 each. The kits can recognise six different types of drugs, and can be used about 15 times. The Green Party product costs pounds 15, or pounds 34 for a more accurate model.

The devices were first developed in the Netherlands and used as a method of detecting adulterated pills. Dealers frequently mix drugs such as speed with other substances, including baking soda or headache tablets and try to sell them as ecstasy. Several deaths have been linked to the mixing of unknown drugs.

Dylan Trump, who sells the East Test kits, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We are not encouraging people to use the drug, merely providing more information about the drugs they are taking."

But Jan Betts, the mother of Leah Betts who died in 1995 after taking ecstasy on her 18th birthday, said Mr Trump's claims were "complete nonsense" and "irresponsible".