Vancouver Coastal Health will soon hand out drug testing strips

Fentanyl test strips will soon be available for people to take home from designated sites throughout the Vancouver Coastal Health.

Vancouver Coastal Health / PNG

Take home test strips that are able to detect the presence of fentanyl in recreational drugs will soon be made available to the public at designated sites throughout the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

“Providing people with a simple, convenient way to check if their drugs contain fentanyl may help them avoid an overdose, and reduce the number of lives lost due to the contaminated illegal drug supply on our streets,” said Judy Darcy, B.C.’s mental health and addictions minister.

The VCH says the strips were shown in a study to be just as accurate as drug checking at a health care facility in identifying opioids contaminated by fentanyl, the toxic drug responsible for killing thousands of people in B.C.

According to the research study conducted last year by the VCH, Interior Health and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, take-home strips found 89.95 per cent of opioid samples contained fentanyl, while on-site drug checking found 89.14 per cent of samples contained fentanyl.

“We’ve been offering drug checking at community health centres, overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites but we know that not everyone can or wants to go to these sites, especially in light of the stigma that people who use drugs can face,” said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal Health. “We know most people who die from overdoses are using alone. Being able to check their drugs for fentanyl may help them make safer choices and ultimately prevent overdoses.”

Originally intended for urine drug tests, the use of fentanyl testing strips to check the drugs for fentanyl was pioneered by VCH in 2016. A small amount of a drug is mixed with a few drops of water, the test strip is inserted into the solution, and a positive or negative for fentanyl is revealed within seconds.

The strips will be available at four Vancouver pilot sites — Insite, Molson overdose prevention site, Overdose Prevention Society and St. Paul’s Hospital overdose prevention site — by next week and at other sites in the following weeks.

At VCH sites, clients voluntarily have their drugs checked an average of 500 times each month.

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