A cross country initiative that launched in Vancouver is underway to encourage people who use drugs to do so with best safety practices in mind as part of harm reduction measures.
One of which includes having substances be tested before use to determine what’s actually in them.
“A lot of times you’re not getting what you’re being told it is, or there’s contaminants or harmful things in there. Fentanyl is just one of them and the most deadly and problematic,” said Dana Larsen, the founder of Get Your Drugs Tested.
“But there’s all kinds of other cutting agents and contaminants and problems that can be in there and we want people to try and avoid that stuff and make good choices,” she added.
Drug testing or checking is a regular fixture in the overdose prevention scene in Vancouver, British Columbia.
People who use drugs are able to have their drugs tested by healthcare professionals, like those who work for Vancouver Coastal Health at overdose prevention sites throughout the region.
Cities like Halifax don’t have access to overdose prevention sites or thorough testing.
That’s why Larsen says posters are being plastered in major cities across the country, alerting people to the new campaign and the opportunity to have their drugs tested by mailing a small sample, less than the size of a matchstick head, to the organization.
People now have the opportunity to test their drugs by mailing a small sample, less than the size of a matchstick head, to the organization.
WATCH: Halifax’s African Nova Scotian community responds to proposed overdose prevention site
“We’ve only been open a short time. What I’ve seen so far is mostly it’s been MDMA and cocaine that people have sent in and that kind of makes sense, because an MDMA user is not using it every couple of hours so they’ve got a different pattern,” said Larsen.
“I welcome everybody sending things in but I expect that people with an addiction issue who are using opioids especially are probably less likely to send it in than others,” she added.
‘Just by raising awareness we could save some lives’
Harm reduction measures in Halifax have been on a steady rise due to outreach workers advocating for on overdose prevention site in the city.
Matthew Bonn said increased discussions around the benefits of harm reduction have led to effective overdose prevention conversations, such as a recent social media alert that circulated online, alerting people to the potential presence of fentanyl appearing in fake Xanax pills in the city.
That alert sparked the need to introduce Rapid Response Fentanyl Test Strips to the harm reduction scene in Halifax.
“Maybe there are people that think they’re using a dilaudid or a hydromorph and they test it and it comes back for fentanyl and there’s a lot of users who don’t want to use fentanyl. So, I think by just raising a little bit of awareness we could save some lives,” said Bonn, a founding member of the HaliFIX Overdose Prevention Society.
Bonn said the strips determine whether or not fentanyl is present in the drug.
Meanwhile in Vancouver, Larsen hopes the posters encourage people across the country to strongly consider how to best protect themselves in situations where they or others may be using drugs of any kind.
“We need to destigmatize drug use. The reality is that virtually all Canadians use drugs of some kind whether legal or illegal,” said Larsen.
“And the boundary between those two things is not a very firm one. So, I hope that people can start talking about this and putting safety first and being aware that there are options out there to find out more about what they’re putting in their body,” she added.