Nightclubs in Preston are to offer free drug testing to people who want to know if their Class A substances are pure.
The walk-in booths, run by a charity, will aim to reduce drug-related deaths by checking cocaine and MDMA are not “adulterated or highly potent”.
Lancashire police have reportedly said they are backing the scheme, which will operate in the city centre on Friday and Saturday nights from the beginning of next year.
Volunteers operating out of a caravan will not handle the drugs directly and any substances tested will be destroyed afterwards, The Sunday Times reported, in order to ensure the operation is legal.
Users will not be required to give their names, and will not face repercussions for possessing an illegal substance. Police have agreed not to target anyone using the booths and are reported to be “most supportive” of the scheme by the organisation running it.
Critics, however, have said the project could normalise drug-taking and emphasised that no drugs are ever truly safe.
Some argue police are encouraging drug use and have said the move breaks the law.
“I am staggered this is being contemplated,” Professor Neil McKeganey, founder of the Centre for Substance Use Research at Glasgow University, told the newspaper. “The police are advocating a view which one would not unfairly describe as facilitating drug use.
“By implication the green light has been given by the authorities to consumption. It’s hard to see how this isn’t an absolute breach of our current drugs laws.”
But when some music festivals ran a similar service last summer it was considered a big success, with about one in five of 300 people who used the service not taking the drugs after they were tested.
Fiona Measham, professor of criminology at Durham University and co-director of the Loop, the charity running the scheme, said: “It’s a very new service and some people might see it as quite radical, but it’s focusing on harm reduction.”
The National Police Chief’s Council has reportedly said the service could be useful but had not been fully endorsed for national implementation.
The service will use sophisticated laser equipment that can reveal any drug’s content in minutes and is described as a “pragmatic” response to drug problems in clubs that neither encourages or condones the use of illegal substances.
Drug deaths are currently at an all-time high and are continuing to rise, data suggests.
The number of people dying from drug misuse soared to 2,250 per year in 2014, almost triple the levels found when records began in 1993.
The numbers have been increasing since then, with continual upward spikes year-on-year since a momentary drop in 2012.
The overwhelming majority of drug-related deaths are caused by accidental poisoning.