Vancouver drug users will now be able to test their drugs for fentanyl

Demonstration of the new machine that will allow drug users to get their drugs tested for fentanyl and other harmful substances. (They used a fake sample). Nadia Stewart / Global News

B.C.’s drug users have a new tool to help them fight the fentanyl crisis in the province.

A new drug-checking service is being tested in Vancouver, which is the first of its kind in Canada.

This study began last week as part of the government’s work to test whether making drug checking more widely available will help prevent more overdose deaths.

“With dangerous drugs like fentanyl contaminating the majority of street drugs, giving people information on what’s in the substances they are using can help them make informed decisions about whether or how much they consume – and could save lives,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, in a release.

“Our research into drug checking will help us answer key questions about how effective and reliable these technologies could be in reducing the devastating number of people dying across the province from overdoses.”

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The program will kick off in Vancouver, where the city has partnered with the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) to purchase a portable drug-checking machine. It is currently being used, along with fentanyl test strips, to check street drugs for a wide range of contaminants. The machine will be used at two supervised consumption sites in Vancouver — Insite and Powell Street Getaway.

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions also is expanding the use of fentanyl test strips in all supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites in British Columbia.

“This new drug-testing technology has the potential to save hundreds of lives in Vancouver by empowering substance users to adopt safer drug-use practices and ultimately reduce their risk of overdose,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson, in a release. “I’m proud to support this initiative through a $60,000 grant from the City’s Opioid Contingency Fund to the BC Centre on Substance Use to add a critical prevention element to the continuum of addiction services.”

People can anonymously submit drug samples to be tested.

The new drug-checking service is available at Insite on Mondays and Tuesdays from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Powell Street Getaway on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

So far this year, more than 1,000 people have died of overdoses in B.C., compared to 607 this time last year.

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In 2016, 914 people died of drug overdoses.

Fentanyl is suspected to have played a role in 83 per cent of those deaths.

The B.C. Coroners Service says there were 80 suspected drug overdose deaths in the province in September alone, which is an increase of 31 per cent from September 2016.

The province is now looking at how to reduce these numbers.

“We are escalating our response,” Darcy said Thursday. “We are getting safe injectable medications, safe prescription drugs, into the hands of as many people living with addictions as we possibly can. [We are also increasing] access to naloxone, more access to harm reduction sites.”

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