Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has added two new drug-checking machines to its arsenal, in a bid to lower the death toll of the opioid overdose crisis.
Vancouver is already home to one Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) Spectrometer, which can detect a variety of drug compounds, including fentanyl and its analogues.
The City of Vancouver and the BC Centre on Substance Use bought it last November.
The machines, which cost about $50,000, can do a drug check in two minutes and are highly portable. Earlier this year, for example, the existing machine was loaned out to the Shambhala Music Festival.
The two new machines, which were acquired in partnership with PHS Community Services Society and the Lookout Housing and Health Society, will rotate between various Vancouver supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites.
“We continue to find that drugs are heavily contaminated with fentanyl, about 80, 85 per cent of the opioids that are tested are positive for fentanyl,” said VCH Medical Health Officer Dr. Mark Lysyshyn.
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The tools are part of the region’s harm reduction strategy, both to identify the potentially deadly presence of compounds such as fentanyl, and to try to change user behaviour.
A recent VCH study by Dr. Lysyshyn found that users who knew their drugs contained fentanyl were 10 times as likely to reduce their dosage and 25 per cent less likely to overdose than others who had not tested their supply.
“When people come in to check their drugs it can encourage them to use their drugs in a supervised setting so they’re not using alone and overdosing alone,” Amy Villis, the Lookout society’s director of health services said in a media release.
“We know that using alone is a huge risk factor when it comes to dying of a drug overdose, and no one has ever died of an overdose at an overdose prevention site or a supervised consumption site.”
Along with the FTIR machine, VCH also uses fentanyl test strips to detect the presence of the powerful narcotic at supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites.
The strips are cost effective and more widely available than drug-checking machines, however they cannot detect some fentanyl analogues, and do not give the dedicated chemical makeup of a substance the way FITR does.