Harm reduction in Uruguay has taken a major step forward with the on-site testing of drugs at a festival in the capital Montevideo.
On July 3 the electronic music festival La Terraza hosted a mobile laboratory where festival-goers could take their drugs to be tested. The Uruguayan human rights organisation ProDerechos teamed up with the Spanish harm reduction group Energy Control to provide the service.
A total of 135 tests were carried out on ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and cocaine. Five of these tests revealed substances containing potentially dangerous adulterants, three of which were pills found to contain MDMA mixed with caffeine, MCPP (a new ecstasy-like substance which can seriously affect the digestive system), and other unknown substances. A sample of LSD contained NBOM and a sample of cocaine had been cut with the dangerous anti-parasitic Levamisol.
ProDerechos declared the pill testing initiative to be “an historic day against hypocrisy.”
According to Ivan Fornis Espinosa of Energy Control, pill testing serves three primary functions: it establishes a dialogue between the user and health workers; it ensures people who use drugs are as well informed as possible; and, it enables monitoring of drug market dynamics.
This move sees Uruguay follow in the footsteps of a number of countries, including, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands, along with its Latin American counterpart Colombia. It furthermore comes in the wake of six tragic deaths at the Time Warp festival in neighbouring Argentina in April, all of which were the result of suspected drug overdoses.
Whether the pill testing initiative in Montevideo will be replicated elsewhere in Uruguay remains to be seen, however. The government had previously considered introducing pill testing at Montevideo’s Warehouse Project on June 24 but eventually decided against the measure. Instead, the country's National Drugs Board (JND) opted to distribute information brochures on the potential harms of taking drugs and ensure the easy accessibility of water.
The government has made it clear that it did not authorise the testing at La Terraza, with Interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi stating that whilst Uruguay does not criminalise personal use or possession, it remains illegal to sell or otherwise distribute these drugs. Therefore, he said, this testing “does not correspond” to the law.