Accuracy of fentanyl test strips under scrutiny by Health Canada

A nurse demonstrates the use of a fentanyl test strip at Vancouver's Insite. Health Canada warns that the test strips may not always be 100% accurate. Vancouver Coastal Health handout

Health Canada is warning that test strips to detect the illicit opioid fentanyl in street drugs may not produce accurate results.

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

The federal department’s Drug Analysis Service undertook a study to compare the results of a fentanyl test strip product against its more accurate laboratory technology.

Results to date are very preliminary, but show there’s a possibility for a small number of false negatives.

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A false negative means the test result does not identify fentanyl in a drug sample even when it’s present, which could lead to a false sense of security that could result in an overdose or death.

Health Canada says this is particularly true for people who use drugs alone or without visiting a supervised consumption site where emergency help is immediately available.

READ MORE: Vancouver Fire Rescue responded to more than 6,000 overdose calls this year

Some people use the strips to detect fentanyl by dissolving a small amount of their drugs in a solution. But the testing devices aren’t designed for use this way by consumers and could result in false negatives.

The department says all illegal drugs should be considered potentially contaminated and taken in the presence of another person equipped with the overdose rescue medication naloxone.

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