Exchange Supplies reference in voluntary action and illegal drugs by Mold and Berridge

Below is a brief excerpt from the book 'Voluntary Action and Illegal Drugs - Health and Society in Britain since the 1960's by Alex Mold and Virginia Berridge. We recommend the book - which captures an important social history that could otherwise have been lost - to anyone interested in drug policy in the UK over this period. You can buy it from Amazon, by clicking HERE.

We have transcribed the section that refers to Exchange Supplies, from the chapter ‘Business Models or the Revival of the State? 1990s-2000s’. The information about Exchange Supplies was gathered by the authors in an interview with Andrew Preston at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in March 2007.

We've added a couple of notes to the text, they're denoted by square brackets [like this].

Page 136
...Social enterprise as a ‘marketing device’ came onto the scene in the early twenty-first century. In the drugs field there had been an early organization of this type, HIT in Liverpool in the 1990s. HIT was established at that time as a ‘privatised’ North West Drug Training Unit. It was very successful in establishing the international harm reduction conferences and in promoting publications and training.

It was a role model for fully fledged social enterprise in the drug field, exemplified in Exchange Supplies, an organisation which evolved in the early 2000s. Exchange Supplies developed out of a ‘pure voluntarism’ activity which then developed a commercial dimension. In the late 1980s Andrew Preston, a student nurse, developed a guide to safer injecting, What works? which was published and marketed by DrugScope.

While still working as a community psychiatric nurse, he wrote a whole series of drugs publications which were marketed in the same way: among them was The Methadone Handbook, which became the self-help bible for the field. Exchange Supplies began to develop as a social enterprise in 2001 through the issue of citric acid sachets for needle exchanges to supply to drug users.

Preston and his co-worker Jon Derricott, who had also worked for HIT and was a founder member of the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) decided to take the initiative. [NOTE: Either this hasn't been correctly transcribed from the interview or Andrew said IHRA when he meant UKHRA - when Jon worked for HIT he was involved in organising the IHRA conferences, and he was a founder member of the UK Harm Reduction Alliance but he wasn't a founder member of IHRA]

"We had to develop the citric ourselves because the legal problems (and commercial risk) meant that despite our urging, free advice and encouragement the companies, charities and voluntary bodies serving the harm reduction field were either unable or unwilling to fully respond to the equipment and information needs of drug users.

As independent trainers we were able to invest our own time and effort and money in finding solutions to the problems surrounding paraphernalia supply. We had begun to hear more frequent accounts from people on our courses of eyesight problems being caused by the use of lemon juice (rather than a more appropriate acid) and became increasingly determined to do something about it."

Their response built directly on the needs of users, and further initiatives followed: among them were the supply of a water ampoule intended for injecting, and the organization of the annual National Drug Treatment Conference, notable for its involvement of users in the programme. Andrew Preston recalled: “it was high risk but there was a demand and we added other products.”

He signed up for business classes and later they became a limited company, recruiting an employee who provided proper financial planning. There was no grand plan. The company employed drug users and much of their product testing was with staff. [NOTE: This isn't meant to imply that we did experiments with acidifiers etc. on our colleagues! …we have current and former drug users in our staff team, and it has been great to be able to call on their expertise, and access to drug using networks, when developing products and writing publications.]

In the 2000s many of the larger drug organizations also began to use the social enterprise terminology – Turning Point for example, began to call itself a social enterprise organization. Here was a further illustration of eroding boundaries between public, business and voluntary sectors.


Exchange Supplies,
1 Great Western Industrial Centre,
Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1RD, UK

01305 262244