WORDS: WILLA NIELSEN ('17), CULTURE EDITOR (ABROAD)
Drugs are dangerous. Adam Auctor, creator of The Bunk Police, agrees. Our generation attends more music festivals and art events than any other, and although we may not fess up to it, they’re usually flooded with ‘party favors.’ The frightening reality is that they’re often not what we think they are. Drug and overdose related hospitalizations and deaths have gained massive media attention as the number continues to climb. I spoke with Adam Auctor about the work he’s been doing to combat this growing statistic. By selling and developing drug testing kits that check for adulterants and hazardous chemicals, The Bunk Police aims at reducing drug related hospital visits and providing information and awareness to substance users.
The Bunk Police presents a more aware and safety-conscious approach to drug use. But are drugs ever safe? What does it mean to be a conscientious user, and how will drug-testing kits influence drug culture? As Auctor puts it, “We’re just trying to bring honesty to the black market, as strange as that sounds. It’s possible.”
DISCLAIMER: This article does not intend to harp on the events of last semester or serve as any type of judgment.
To start off, what is Bunk Police?
BP: The Bunk Police is a substance testing organization for harm reduction purposes. We distribute test kits at music festivals and other events nationwide. We also distribute our kits on amazon.com and on bunkpolice.com. We’ve been shipping worldwide for about five years now. And, yeah, it’s doing pretty well.
So you started Bunk Police shortly after dropping out of business school.
BP: That’s right
What made you want to start it? What got you passionate about this?
BP: Well, you know, I was lucky enough to kind of realize what was going on. I was going to an event with a few friends and had stumbled upon the police supply kits, which are used for forensics, and they keep them in the back of police cruisers. I purchased a few of them just to kind of see what was going on and see if they were useful. And once I got to the event I realized that a vast majority of the substances being sold were misrepresented. Also that there was a huge demand for these types of kits and it was something that could not only reduce harm, but could be a very beneficial thing for a lot of people in a lot of ways. You know, spreading information about how to safely partake and everything.
So how do they work? You sell them at festivals, you sell them online, Amazon is selling them… Can anyone who buys your product use it themselves?
BP: That’s right, yeah. It’s pretty easy. You just take a little bit of your substance, be it pill, paper, powder, liquid even, and put it in the test tube. You add a few drops of our test kit liquid and it’ll change colors. You match it up to the chart and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you have.
And what about liability ? If someone takes a drug that that tested as safe and they end up in the hospital, who’s held accountable? What happens then?
BP: Well, I mean our test kits are not foolproof. There can be mistakes that are made. We’ve been innovating over the last two years. We’ve recently come up with something called the separation test kit, which is able to separate mixed substances and test the individual components. So that helps make them a little bit more precise. We have, more or less, waivers all over our site that say that drugs are, in general, a risky thing to do, and this doesn’t make it completely safe. We try and make it as safe as possible for people, but it’s inherently dangerous.
What would you say the public response has been?
BP: The public, media and authorities have all been extremely positive. All of our media coverage has been overwhelmingly positive, people are very excited that this new idea is gaining traction. You know, finally there’s truth coming to a very shady part of the American economy, and the worldwide economy. And as far as the police go, they’ve always been behind us. They would prefer to have us check substances or, you know, give people the ability to do so rather than dealing with somebody that’s taken too much of a substance or the wrong substance and is having problems because of that. EMTs are also incredibly excited about what we’re doing. It really cuts down on the dangers at these events and what they have to deal with with patients.
Have you guys run into any legal problems?
BP: We have not, no. The test kits exist in a bit of a legal gray area. They’re legal under federal law, they’re not considered paraphernalia at all on that level. When it comes to state laws though, things are a little bit more gray. At the same time our test kits are not for testing illegal substances for purity, they’re for testing unknown substances for adulterants and for dangerous chemicals. So far it’s been pretty positive as far as legal repercussions. We haven’t run into anything.
What would you say to claims that Bunk Police propagates drug culture or drug usage? Or at least profits off of it?
BP: Well, we actually see a very large majority of people that use our kits take a step back from substance use after they realize what it is that they’ve been doing. A lot of people don’t realize that the market is as big of a mess as it is, and once they do realize it, they take a step back. Profiting off of the culture, I mean I guess we do to some extent, but the vast majority of the money that we make goes back into research. We also donate large amounts to projects in Europe such as Energy Control, which is GCMS and HPLC testing which allows people to send substances in for full analysis to not only the percentage point but actually to a 1/10 or a 1/100th of a percent. The separation test kit that we’re releasing currently has taken two years to put together and it’s an enormous undertaking. Thousands and thousands of hours, not to mention multiple trips to Europe and the supplies involved. It’s all going back into creating a superior product and creating a safer environment.
It seems like there’s kind of a comparison to be made between Bunk Police and Needle Exchange. This idea that people who are going to do drugs are going to do drugs, so you might as well make it as safe as possible for them. Is it a fair comparison?
BP: I think it’s fair, but I usually prefer to use the distribution of condoms and safe sex supplies over Needle Exchange. Just because there’s such a stigma against hardcore use of needle intravenous drugs, I just don’t like to associate it with that very much. And it also seems like most of the people that are doing that type of substance in that fashion aren’t so much interested in what sort of substance it is, they’re more interested in fixing a problem that they have, or trying to get high on the substance that they have. Once you get to that level it’s less about the quality. We deal mostly with people that take drugs very infrequently, at an event or two a year, or maybe more than that. But we don’t really get into that market too much.
What do you hope will come from these drug testing kits, what exactly about this market are you trying to change?
BP: Well, we’re just trying to take the power away from substance dealers. They have the power to distribute whatever they want, and users up until this point really have no way to decipher between what’s good and safe and what’s unsafe. So we’re just trying to bring honesty to the black market, as strange as that sounds. It’s possible.
Within festival culture here’s a focus on safety while engaging in an inherently unsafe action. Is there such a thing as a safe drug? Or are these drug testing kits trying to show that there’s not?
BP: Well, there may be such a thing as a safe drug. But we’re not doing the research necessary to figure that out. In order to actually come to the conclusion that one of these substances is safe or unsafe, we actually have to do some real long-term studies. So far that’s been impossible because they’re all being scheduled extremely quickly, as soon as they hit the market, especially the research chemicals. I mean, maybe one of those could possibly be safe, but our aim is just to reduce the harm that is inherent with substance use at this point. Maybe at some point in the future we’ll be able to find an alternative or something that is as safe as possible. But we’re definitely not there yet.
On your website, the phrase “question everything” appears throughout. What do you mean by that?
BP: It just means that you have to question everyone you’re dealing with when it comes to substance use. Even if you have a trusted friend that’s providing a substance for you, you don’t know who they purchased it from and you definitely don’t know who was above them, or above them. It’s a really long chain of distribution before it gets to the users. So, no matter who you’re getting it from, no matter how much trust you have in them, you have to question. You have to make sure for yourself.
You recently made a documentary called “What’s in my Baggie?” What were your objectives with this project? And what was the process like?
For a couple of years when we first started, it was relatively difficult for people to understand that there really was a large problem. They’d only see a very small portion of it, maybe we’d come around doing tests for them and it would be negative. And then they would think, hey, we’re just part of a small minority. When it comes down to it, it’s a vast majority of substances that are adulterated. That needed to be put on its own and distributed for free so that people could really understand how wide reaching this issue is. That’s kind of the process of making the documentary, you know it was quite an undertaking and we had so many risks involved with what we were doing, from testing the drugs, just from being in the vicinity of people who were testing them on camera, to sneaking cameras in. A lot of the places where we were filming we weren’t allowed to be operating in that way. So it was definitely a risky thing to do but in the end it was more than worthwhile. The reaction has been unbelievable. We have close to a million views of the documentary now on YouTube. And it really seems that most people that stayed in this culture have at least heard of test kits at this point. I think that documentary had a lot to do with it.
With a growing reputation, an increasing number of interviews and this documentary, what’s next for Bunk Police? What are you working on now?
Well the separation test kit is something we just released, well actually we just did the pre-order. And that’s a complete and utter game changer. With our current kits, it’s possible to potentially hide substances behind the reaction of other substances. For instance, if one substance has a really dark reaction, it hides something inside of that powder that has a really white colored reaction. It can be prevented by using multiple different kits and comparing the results, but now with the separation test kit you can actually separate out the substances first. So if you have a powder that’s a mix of MDMA, cathinones (bath salts), methamphetamine, amphetamine, those will all separate out into different testable spots on our plate. You can even tell to some extent what portion of each is in the sample. The separation test kit is just in its beginning stages, there’s so much more than can be done with it… We’re also working on bringing HPLC and GCMS testing to worldwide availability. Allowing people to send samples into a lab in Spain and having them fully analyzed. The analysis that’s available there is unbelievable. They can take a single blotter of LSD and tell you how many micrograms is on that blotter, how many micrograms have degraded, and which isomers of LSD are on the blotter. I mean, that’s completely begun their ability to test for research chemicals and the percentage of those present and that sort of thing. We’re just looking for every way possible to increase our capabilities and make this incredibly dangerous culture as safe as we possibly can.