The Importance of Drug Checking

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by Evan Hazlett ’17 of DePaul University SSDP

A lesson I have learned over the course of my life is that it is important to establish your guiding principles and ethics as an individual in our beautiful, yet corrupt, world, and truly live by those principles and ethics. When it comes to drug use and addressing its harms, it is crucial we hold the values of empathy, love, and responsibility close to our hearts. In holding these values, you will find it easier to embody your other values. In doing so, you will help both yourself and others, including your loved ones and community.

My name is Evan Hazlett and I proudly serve as President of Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s chapter at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. I currently study multi-faceted event planning and dream of producing a large-scale music and arts festival named Floof Festival, centered around social change, community organizing, and activism. I personally am a strong proponent of harm reduction, and advocate for harm reduction practices and drug education in my current work as a community organizer, and will continue doing so in my future career as an event producer. As this career choice is all about bringing people together, I aim to live by my ethics by doing the best job I can at showing love and keeping people safe from harm at my events.

Advocating for drug checking aligns with my values of being compassionate and keeping people safe. Drug checking kits are used to confirm the presence of a substance an individual may be planning to use as well as to screen for potential adulterants. In an underground market, there are no regulations or quality controls on substances and drugs are usually adulterated, and sometimes sold as completely different substances, therefore drug checking is a crucial harm reduction tool. In the United States, drug testing materials are often defined by state legislatures as drug paraphernalia and prohibited as such. (SSDP is not able to endorse our chapters engaging in drug checking practices, but we have created guidelines as an educational tool for individuals choosing to possess drug checking reagent kits, allow others to use such kits, advertise such use, or conduct drug checking themselves. This information is not legal advice.) Coupled with the RAVE Act, this can make it difficult to provide drug checking and other harm reduction services at festivals.

Organizations like Bunk Police and DanceSafe provide drug checking services. In 2018, at Okeechobee Music Festival in Florida, I had the opportunity to chat with the founder of the Bunk Police, Adam Auctor, and thank him for his dedication to keeping people safe.

As our legislators continue to fail to act on the public health crisis of the adulterated drug supply, and festival producers discourage drug checking at their events, the Bunk Police successfully organized peaceful protests at the popular music festivals Bonnaroo and Electric Forest this summer. I was honored to be at both demonstrations representing SSDP,The Zendo Project (A psychedelic peer support group), and People For Sensible Drug Culture (A new Interchapter Collaboration Committee endeavor to expand direct activism beyond students at cultural events such as music festivals.)

This article written by Sessi Kuwabara Blanchard for Filter Magazine earlier this year outlines the importance of drug checking kits. The article describes a drug-related situation at Electric Forest, a music festival in Rothbury, Michigan that I have attended for several years. At the festival in 2018, a man discovered that the cocaine he had been selling tested positive for fentanyl – a potent opioid that has a higher risk for overdose. He was very distraught because he did not intend to be selling people cocaine cut with fentanyl, and did not want to harm anyone who purchased his drugs.

One of the reasons why this article deeply impacted me was because I experienced a similar situation. A couple approached a few friends of mine and I, inquiring about their white powder they thought to be cocaine. After testing the substance, we determined that it was not cocaine.

The couple assured us that they weren’t going to take the substance, and we agreed that was a sensible choice. A little while later they came back into our campsite and informed us that the substance was indeed not cocaine but fentanyl. Back then I wasn’t aware of the significance of fentanyl but after some SSDP Just Say Know drug education , and my SSDP chapter’s successful attempt to expand access to an opioid overdose reversal medication (NARCAN) for students on campus, I understand how serious this situation was.

If it weren’t for the drug checking kit provided by Bunk Police our two new friends could have been severely harmed and even potentially experience overdose. But because we were able to test their drugs, they avoided those possibilities and were potentially able to warn others.

Prohibition does not work and people will continue to use drugs at festivals, despite efforts by organizers to enforce prohibition. The best way to minimize the harms associated with drugs at festivals is to allow for harm reduction services, like drug checking, to be available.

I am here to advocate for drug checking, education, harm reduction, and activism and to inspire you to do the same. We need to arm our best friends and community leaders with the skills and tools needed to both recognize and understand the substances being used in order to prevent harm and reverse an overdose when one arises. This can only be done by direct action and raising our voices to let our government know that we want our drugs tested and we’re serious about it. We will show up to spread the word about our movement, no matter the circumstances.

To get involved in or to learn more about SSDP, Bunk Police, Dancesafe, and so many others’ mission to support test kits and end the War on Drugs, please reach out to me on any social media platform @Imthatblondkid or email SSDP’s insanely awesome U.S. Advocacy Fellow and my incredible friend, Hannah Procell. In the words of Bunk Police’s Founder and CEO Adam, “Our end goal is to destroy dishonesty in the substance market and it’s more than possible with your help.” Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and have a happy and safe festival season and summer.