Handheld Raman Spectroscopy in the First UK Home Office Licensed Pharmacist-Led Community Drug Checking Service

Anthony Mullin, Mark Scott, Giorgia Vaccaro, Rosalind Gittins, Salvatore Ferla, Fabrizio Schifano, Amira Guirguis, Francesco Caridi (Editor)

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Across the world, the interest in point-of-care drug checking as a harm-reduction intervention is growing. This is an attempt to improve intelligence about current drug trends and reduce drug-related morbidity and mortality. In the UK, drug-related harm is increasing exponentially year after year. As such, specialist community treatment services are exploring new methods to improve engagement with people who use drugs (PWUD), who may require support for their problematic drug use. This need has driven the requirement to pilot an on-site, time-responsive, readily available drug-checking service at point-of-support centres. In this study, we piloted the UK’s first Home Office-licensed drug-checking service that was embedded into a community substance-misuse service and had all on-site analysis and harm-reduction interventions led and delivered by pharmacists. We report on the laboratory findings from the associated confirmatory analysis (UHPLC-MS, GC-MS, and 1H NMR) to assess the performance of the on-site hand-held Raman spectrometer and outline the challenges of providing real-time analysis of psychoactive substances in a clinical setting. Whilst acknowledging the limitation of the small sample size (n = 13), we demonstrate the potential suitability of using this technology for the purposes of screening substances in community-treatment services. Portability of equipment and timeliness of results are important and only very small samples may be provided by people who use the service. The challenges of accurately identifying substances from complex mixtures were equally found with both point-of-care Raman spectroscopy and laboratory confirmatory-analysis techniques. Further studies are required to confirm these findings.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4793
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH)
Issue number6
Early online date8 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2023


  • Article
  • drug checking
  • drug detection
  • point-of-care testing
  • harm reduction
  • drug-related deaths
  • Harm Reduction
  • Humans
  • Spectrum Analysis, Raman
  • United Kingdom
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Pharmacists


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