The best way to prevent an overdose is to not take illicit drugs, but a group of University of Saskatchewan (U of S) College of Pharmacy students have offered a precautionary measure for those who do choose to use drugs.
The students had to create a business model for an assignment last school year. Their business plan wasn’t focused on a large profit and involved harm reduction initiatives, with a focus on the use of fentanyl testing strips.
They found the strips fast and easy to use, only taking about 10 minutes to see if a substance contains fentanyl.
Two U of S medical students joined the three pharmacy students to form a group called Minimizing the Opioid Crisis, taking their assignment further.
“After looking into a little more statistics about the opioid crisis, and how it’s affecting Saskatchewan specifically, we felt inclined to kind of take our project and turn it into an avenue where we can create some harm reduction approach for our city,” said Baljit Pandher, Minimizing the Opioid Crisis co-founder.
The group needed to contact Health Canada and the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition so the strips could be legally distributed in Saskatoon. They also worked hard to inform the public more about fentanyl’s impact on the opioid crisis.
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid and is often mixed into other illicit drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, without users knowing it’s there. It can be fatal, even in small doses.
According to the government of Canada, 73 per cent of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths in the country involved fentanyl or fentanyl-related substances from January 2018 to September 2018.
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“With drug use there is a lot of stigma, so that was definitely something that we had to overcome,” said Filip Davidovic, Minimizing the Opioid Crisis co-founder.
Minimizing the Opioid Crisis was able to get support from the public and reached out to Mayfair Drugs to distribute the strips.
Mayfair Drugs was one of the first pharmacies in Saskatoon to have methadone, an opioid medication. It also sells naloxone kits to give the public a way to treat overdoses. When Minimizing the Opioid Crisis approached them with the fentanyl testing strips, they were instantly intrigued.
“It would be another part of our service provision that would work well with the other services we provide,” said Cameron Bird, Mayfair Drugs pharmacist.
The pharmacy has been distributing free fentanyl testing strips for the past few weeks and has been teaching people how to use them.
“There’s no judgements that are placed on people. We are just trying to reduce harm and just trying to educate the community on what we can do to help combat the opioid crisis,” Bird said.
Mayfair Drugs is currently paying for the product, but if the demand grows they’ll have to look for other ways to cover the cost, such as public funding.
“This has the opportunity to save the healthcare system a lot of money. Overdoses, in general, can lead to hospitalization and those hospitalizations are quite expensive to the health care system,” Davidovic said.
Minimizing the Opioid Crisis hopes to help other pharmacies in the city distribute fentanyl testing strips if there’s a high enough demand. The group has also reached out to AIDS Saskatoon and is looking to possibly distribute the strips at Saskatchewan’s future safe consumption site.