2022 journal article
The Bronze Age of drug checking: barriers and facilitators to implementing advanced drug checking amidst police violence and COVID-19
HARM REDUCTION JOURNAL, 19(1).
Unpredictable fluctuations in the illicit drug market increase overdose risk. Drug checking, or the use of technology to provide insight into the contents of illicit drug products, is an overdose prevention strategy with an emerging evidence base. The use of portable spectrometry devices to provide point-of-service analysis of the contents of illicit drugs been adopted by harm reduction organizations internationally but is only emerging in the United States. This study aimed to identify barriers and facilitators of implementing drug checking services with spectrometry devices in an urban harm reduction organization and syringe service program serving economically marginalized people who use drugs in Boston, Massachusetts (USA).In-vivo observations and semi-structured interviews with harm reduction staff and participants were conducted between March 2019 and December 2020. We used the consolidated framework for implementation research to identify implementation barriers and facilitators.This implementation effort was facilitated by the organization's shared culture of harm reduction-which fostered shared implementation goals and beliefs about the intervention among staff persons-its horizontal organizational structure, strong identification with the organization among staff, and strong relationships with external funders. Barriers to implementation included the technological complexity of the advanced spectroscopy devices utilized for drug checking. Program staff indicated that commercially available spectroscopy devices are powerful but not always well-suited for drug checking efforts, describing their technological capacities as "the Bronze Age of Drug Checking." Other significant barriers include the legal ambiguity of drug checking services, disruptive and oppositional police activity, and the responses and programmatic changes demanded by the COVID-19 pandemic.For harm reduction organizations to be successful in efforts to implement and scale drug checking services, these critical barriers-especially regressive policing policies and prohibitive costs-need to be addressed. Future research on the impact of policy changes to reduce the criminalization of substance use or to provide explicit legal frameworks for the provision of this and other harm reduction services may be merited.