Fentanyl test strips won’t be widely available any time soon: Minister

A nurse demonstrates the use of a fentanyl test strip at Vancouver's Insite. Vancouver Coastal Health handout

Despite the mounting death toll in B.C.’s opioid overdose crisis, the widespread distribution of special strips that can test for fentanyl isn’t on the horizon.

“It is complex, there are issues of federal approval, there are issues of safety for workers and there are also issues about reliability of the test strips,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy.

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“We don’t want people to think that if they’ve used this test strip and they get a negative that means that automatically this drug is safe.”

Insite introduced the tests, which use paper strips originally intended for urine samples, in September 2016, hoping to push users towards harm reduction strategies.

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The strips produce a yes or no response, and are unable to detect the presence of fentanyl analogues like carfentanil.

At this point, the test strips are only available as a part of a pilot project in Vancouver Coastal Health region at supervised consumption sites, including Insite.

Clinical coordinator Marjory Ditmars demonstrates the test strips available at Insite. Vancouver Coastal Health

While there have been calls to widen their availability, along the lines of the distribution of naloxone, Darcy said there are still challenges to overcome.

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“We do need to get federal approval for the use of those test strips, so we have that approval in Vancouver Coastal, and we’re looking to speed up approval at the federal government level.”

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Back in May, Vancouver Coastal Health said that over a nine-month period of using the strips nearly 80 per cent of tests revealed the presence of fentanyl.

Officials said in the more than 1,000 drug tests conducted, 83 per cent of heroin samples contained fentanyl, while 82 per cent of crystal meth and 40 per cent of cocaine samples contained the powerful narcotic.

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Shocking new numbers on drug overdose deaths in B.C.

However, amid the grim statistics was at least one positive note.

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The pilot project found that users who tested their drugs before taking them and found them to contain fentanyl were ten times more likely to take a smaller dose, and 25 per cent less likely to overdose.

More than 1,000 people have died of suspected illicit drug overdoses in the first eight months of 2017, more than in all of 2016.

Last week, five people died in a single night in Abbotsford.

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