March 8, 2017 4:25 am
Updated: March 8, 2017 4:27 am

Victoria researchers, pharmacists working to improve fentanyl testing

WATCH: As healthcare officials and frontline workers struggle to find solutions for the fentanyl crisis, a group of UVIC chemists is working on a potentially life-saving tool. Neetu Garcha explains.

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Staff at a Victoria pharmacy have partnered with researchers at the University of Victoria to develop a rapid, low-cost test to detect the amount of fentanyl in illicit drugs.

“With our [current] testing, we found that fentanyl is present, so that’s kind of the standard now, but it’s how much and if we can make a test that tells you how much then people can make informed decisions rather than throwing a dart in the dark,” staff pharmacist at STS Pharmacy in Victoria Jarred Aasen said.

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Aasen said he and his colleagues couldn’t turn a blind eye to the lack of quality control when it comes to street drugs and wanted to try and come up with a way to help.

And while tests to determine the concentration of fentanyl or other deadly additives do already exist, Aasen said the technology is expensive and only used in settings like airports and law enforcement agencies.

That’s why STS Pharmacy has teamed up with UVic to develop a test that could be used more widely.

READ MORE: Victoria Police and CBSA make fentanyl seizure worth $400K sent from China

“They have to be sensitive enough to detect fentanyl and be easy enough to use that anyone with little training can get the response needed,” UVic chemistry professor Dennis Hore said.

Using federal grant money, Hore and his assistant researcher Nic Medgyesi spent six months making the prototype.

They say the technology is comparable to that used in devices that cost around $50,000, but the prototype is estimated to cost closer to $1,000.

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“This could be a huge open-source kind of thing, a massive library that you could mine all the data from and you could find out a lot from all the people using it uploading their data,” Medgyesi said.

The aim is to have this prototype up and running inside STS Pharmacy within the next few months.

“If it’s showing promise we can create another one, get another pharmacy on board, maybe get a harm reduction site, different interested parties can participate,” Aasen said.

Hore said he hopes his research, while still in its early stages, encourages other people to get involved in creating similar tools to help combat the overdose crisis that is sweeping across the country.

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