Drug checking in The Netherlands: The Drugs Information and Monitoring System
DIMS, Trimbos Instituut, Da Costakade 45, Utrecht 3500 AS, Netherlands
Phone no: +31 – 30 297 1100 Fax no: +31 – 30 297 1111 E-mail:
The Drugs Information and Monitoring System (DIMS) was started in 1992. It originated from t.nlhe testing at rave parties in 1988. This gave people the opportunity to get their pills tested. The monitoring aspect is the most important for DIMS. The government’s point of view is that monitoring makes it possible to appraise new drugs like 4MTA and to trace new substances. In the UK four people have already died of 4MTA.
DIMS is a network which has about 25 participating office agencies and most of them are involved in the prevention of drug abuse. These offices are spread all over the Netherlands and they give quick information about preparations that are circulating in the market. Information is also given to users about drugs and the setting in which drugs are taken, such as drinking enough water, etc, and this has given the campaign credibility. There are warning campaigns at the moment that are necessary.
There are two types of agencies within DIMS. The first type is where people always give in their pill. These are then sent to the central DIMS office and from there to a laboratory for chemical analysis - unless we already know what it is - and the results are sent directly to the agency. The second type of agencies are what we call ‘quick testers’ or ‘office testers’. A person gives their pill to the office and a Marquis test is carried out. This test is used only to test for certain substances, for example if there are MDMA-like substances or amphetamine-like substances in it. Then the diameter, the thickness, the weight and the colour are recorded. It is also noted if there is a breaking groove on the tablet, what the logo is and all the other characteristics of the pill. There is a 'determination list’ and the tester can see whether the pill is on the list. If so, the consumer is given information about what is probably in the tablet, the risks of taking the drug and also the effects of taking this drug. If the pill is not on the list, the deliverer, that is the consumer, of the pill is asked if it can be sent to the DIMS office in the Trimbos Instituut to be tested in their laboratory. No further information may be given about the pill if this is not done. If they say "Yes" then the pill is sent to the DIMS office to be chemically analysed and the consumer gets the information via the office.
The most important aspect of the DIMS system is the determination table. Every week a new table is sent to all the DIMS participants that are testing at the office. The determination table is composed of all the laboratory analyses that we have on pills that have been analysed in the last eight weeks. Each pill has to be on the list a minimum of three times before we can conclude whether they are from a certain batch. Of course, this is never absolutely certain. Pills containing dangerous substances are not included in the list but the information about them is sent to the office testers.
In the laboratory there are two qualitative analyses. The first one is thin layer chromatography and the second one is gas chromatography so we always have a means of checking whether certain substances are present. The GC-determination also gives us a quantitative analysis or quantitative measure. If necessary, we also do a mass-spectrometry (MS) analysis. The laboratory has a huge library of substances which are available on the market. Sometimes, new substances appear on the market, for example 2CT2 and 2CT7, and if those substances are not present in the MS database, an analysis is carried out by a university laboratory to trace what is actually in the substance.
Between 1992 and 1998 more than 25,000 tablet analyses were made in the laboratory, and there were more than 25,000 tablets determined and recognised on the spot in the office. There were dozens of new substances on the market which were sold as ecstasy but were not ecstasy and there were about ten major warning campaigns.
Reliability of drug testing
In 1996 the Dutch government wanted to know about our system and its reliability. There was a chemical audit by an external laboratory - the national forensic institute -and they checked the office testing and the determination list, etc. There was also an audit for the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the laboratory.
The results stated that the qualitative analyses of the laboratory were good. There were some problems with some quantitative analyses; if there are new substances on the market, the DIMS system is usually one of the first to find them and therefore there are no standards available at that moment. In general, the office testing is well done but the people who are testing do not have a scientific background; in most cases they have a social background or they are
prevention workers. They can carry out the tests and compile the determination list but it is almost impossible to increase the reliability of the test without chemical personnel.
DIMS want the training programmes for testing and drug information to be intensified. This is not because the testers want to give the people good ecstasy pills. In fact, the statement of DIMS is that there are no good pills; they are illegal products and that means there is no control, so a person always takes drugs at their own risk. Testing pills is just a way to reduce the risk. The main thing for the testers to do is to give out information and advice when it is wanted. The second step is to have a system of good testing practice; reliability is becoming better than it used to be. We are trying to computerise our weekly determination tables and we are trying to improve the information exchange between our participants. The conclusion of the DIMS work over the last seven years proves that it is hardly possible to have another system unless it is much more expensive. It is the only system available which you can use to provide information for ecstasy users and to monitor pills without the need for very expensive laboratory equipment and personnel.