Implementing Our Final Product
As the summer drew to a close, we put our biosensor to one final test. From one of our earlier interviews with MSP Susan Deacon, we learned that we should look for ways our biosensor could be implemented with harm reduction measures.
Much of our work with Synenergene was then focused on trying to find the most feasible and effective way our biosensor could be used in this manner. From the very beginning, drug consumption rooms - i.e. government facilities where individuals can bring and use drugs under medical supervision with legal impunity - were a top consideration. Using some of the grant we received from Synenergene, and with our final prototype in hand, we went and visited the Locatie Amoc drug consumption room in Amsterdam.
Whilst there, we had the opportunity to ask both end users and staff whether our final biosensor is pragmatic . Fortunately, the feedback was primarily positive on both ends. Staff and users agreed that the actual design of the biosensor is practical, and the fact that it is cheap and made of paper made it very appealing from a monetary standpoint. Staff further commented that the ability of our biosensor to adapt by changing which contaminants it tests is a major strength because, though certain contaminants remain relatively constant (e.g. PMA in MDMA), they tend to change over time. Thus, the proof of concept behind our device was strong in their opinion.
They did, however, share a piece of critical feedback that had to do with the software application we incorporated into our design. That is, since the smartphone application would have to be downloaded off the internet, it might put the privacy of users at risk in the case of a hack or data breach, jeopardizing them at both a personal and professional level. With that being said, this problem can be circumvented by keeping a designated phone with the application at the drug consumption room to be shared by users, thereby preventing the need for the app to be downloaded individually.
Reflecting on our experience, we were able to see the benefits of treating the issue of drug abuse as a social problem, rather than an individual one. Drug consumption rooms provide a much needed service to addicts in a unique stage in recovery - viz. it allows those who are still dependent to minimise the associated risks and stay alive long enough to get the help they require. We hope that, one day soon, policy reform allows for their establishment in the UK.