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They give out flu shots now; could pharmacists one day test your drugs?

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

It’s now everyday practice for pharmacists to administer flu shots. Could a time come when they play a role in illicit drug testing?

It’s a question the head of an Ontario company that manufactures drug testing strips is asking as Canada grapples with an opioid overdose epidemic.

The small paper strips that can detect fentanyl are currently being used in a pilot project at supervised consumption sites in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

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

The strips, originally designed to test urine samples, produce a “yes” or “no” response, and are unable to detect the presence of fentanyl analogues like carfentanil.

In Vancouver for a pharmacists’ convention on Thursday, BTNX Inc. CEO Iqbal Sunderani said that potential drawback means drug users should always have supervision when testing.

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

And he envisions a future when getting that second pair of eyes could be as easy as a walk to the local pharmacy.

“I know that injection sites are far away, but pharmacists are everywhere,” he said.

“So if pharmacists could be trained to use [the strips], that could be another avenue where we could have more exposure of these tests that can be done in a supervised way.”

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

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If pharmacists were involved in the dispensing of such strips, Sunderani said, they could also play an important part in teaching drug users about their limits.

“It’s a matter of having some education there too. Just because it says negative doesn’t mean its 100 per-cent negative,” he said.

READ MORE: A naloxone kit can reverse an overdose. Here’s how you can get one, and help save a life

Earlier this month, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy said the province was expanding the use of fentanyl test strips to all supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites around the province.

Sunderani said a report on the use of test strips at Insite by Vancouver Coastal Health medical officer Dr. Mark Lysyshyn will also soon be complete.

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