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Vancouver Coastal Health to keep using fentanyl test strips, despite accuracy questions

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

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) says it will continue to use fentanyl testing strips, despite the fact Health Canada says they aren’t 100 per cent accurate.

The strips provide accurate results about 90 per cent of the time, according to VCH medical health officer Dr. Mark Lysyshyn.

READ MORE: Accuracy of fentanyl test strips under scrutiny by Health Canada

With more than 1,000 people dead of suspected drug overdoses in B.C. this year already, Lysyshyn said nine out of 10 correct results is better than nothing.

“If we weren’t using the strips at all, zero percent of the people would know what’s in their drugs,” he said.

“We did know that we needed something simple that clients could use and we needed something fast that provided results right away.”

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

Lysyshyn describes the strips, which are now being used in supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites around B.C. as inexpensive and quick to use.

“If we had to use things that were more expensive or that took longer, they might not be adopted by clients,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that the strips are far from perfect.

In addition to occasionally failing to detect the presence of fentanyl, they are also unable to detect fentanyl analogues, such as carfentanil.

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

After a successful pilot project at Vancouver’s Insite, the province introduced the test strips to provincially monitored drug use sites across B.C. in November.

The early results of that pilot project found that people who found their drugs contained fentanyl were 10 times more likely to take a smaller dose, and 25 per cent less likely to overdose.

More than 1,200 people have died of suspected illicit drug overdoses in the first 10 months of 2017, nearly double the number who had died in the same period last year.

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