Free fentanyl test strips to be distributed in Vancouver Coastal Health region

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

For the first time in British Columbia, the public will be able to check drugs at home with take-home fentanyl test strips.

The strips, which were originally designed to test urine samples, were first introduced at Vancouver supervised injection site Insite in September 2016.

They can detect the presence of fentanyl, but not the concentration of the narcotic. They are also unable to detect fentanyl analogues such as carfentanil.

Those were some of the reasons cited by B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy in 2017 when the government initially resisted distributing them to the public.

READ MORE: Fentanyl test strips won’t be widely available any time soon, minister says

“It is complex, there are issues of federal approval, there are issues of safety for workers and there are also issues about reliability of the test strips,” Darcy said at the time.

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Until now, drug users have only had access to the strips at supervised consumption sites, overdose prevention sites and other health-care facilities.

Following the results of a new study, Vancouver Coastal Health has announced plans to distribute the strips at Insite, the Molson overdose prevention site, the Overdose Prevention Society, the St. Paul’s Hospital overdose prevention site and the Three Bridges and Robert and Lilly Lee community health centres.

VCH says it hopes to have the strips available at the first four sites by next week.

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

“We’ve been offering drug checking at community health centres, overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites but we know that not everyone can or wants to go to these sites, especially in light of the stigma that people who use drugs can face,” VCH medical health officer Dr. Mark Lysyshyn said in a media release.

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VCH said it is also working to make the strips available in Powell River, the Sunshine Coast and the Sea-to-Sky region.

“We know most people who die from overdoses are using alone,” said Lysyshyn.

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“Being able to check their drugs for fentanyl may help them make safer choices and ultimately prevent overdoses.”

The study, conducted by VCH, Interior Health and the BC Centre for Disease Control, distributed free, take-home test kits to participants from April to July 2019.

It found that 89.95 per cent of opioid samples tested contained fentanyl.

READ MORE: Prospect of testing illegal drugs at pharmacies spurs debate

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It also found 27 per cent of users reported making a “safer choice” after discovering fentanyl in the drugs.

VCH defines a “safer choice” as using less of a substance, using it more slowly, using it with a friend or using at an overdose prevention or supervised consumption site.

The agency did not provide a timeline for when the strips will be available for take-home use.

According to VCH, the test strips are already used about 500 times every month at Vancouver Coastal Health sites.

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