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Take-home fentanyl test strips now available to Okanagan drug users: IHA

New take-home drug-testing strips are available and offer an alternative to clients who previously had to come into supervised consumption sites, IHA said. Interior Health\Submitted

One week after issuing an overdose warning due to a tainted meth drug supply in the City of Penticton, the Interior Health Authority (IHA) is offering take-home fentanyl test strips.

The new drug testing strips offer an alternative to clients who previously had to attend supervised consumption sites or community health centres to check their drugs, IHA said.

“Because of the stigma that still surrounds addiction, many people die from overdose alone and at home,” said Judy Darcy, minister of mental health and addictions, in a news release.

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“Giving people a simple, convenient way to check if their drugs contain fentanyl may help them avoid an overdose, and reduce the number of lives lost to the unpredictable and toxic drug supply.”

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The fentanyl test strips are available at community-based agencies in Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, Kamloops, Merritt, Cranbrook and Nelson.

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“For many people, there’s a certain amount of shame associated with their addiction, which makes it challenging for them to access drug-checking services at health care facilities,” said Roger Parsonage, Interior Health executive director of clinical operations.

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“With these take-home drug-checking strips, they can now make informed, safer choices — this service has the potential to save lives.”

A study completed by IHA, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) concluded that take-home drug-checking indicated a positive result for fentanyl in opioid samples at a similar rate as on-site testing at community-based agencies.

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The research study was conducted from April to July of 2019 and provided participants with free take-home drug-checking kits, each containing five fentanyl test strips, instructions, and a survey.

Results from 994 take-home fentanyl test strips used on opioid samples were compared to checks on opioids conducted at health care and community sites during the same time period.

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Take-home drug checking found 89.95 per cent of opioid samples contained fentanyl, while on-site drug checking found 89.14 per cent of samples contained fentanyl, the study found.

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Twenty-seven per cent of clients using the take-home kit made a safer choice if their substance tested positive for fentanyl, according to the research findings.

“Take-home test strips are something clients have been asking for, and now we have some promising evidence for their use,” said Jessica Bridgeman, IHA harm reduction coordinator.

“This is one more tool among other strategies we have implemented to address the ongoing opioid overdose crisis,”

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“Take-home drug checking can be particularly helpful to those in rural and remote communities who may not have access to other overdose prevention services.”

READ MORE: Interior Health issues overdose, fentanyl alert for Penticton

Originally intended for urine drug tests, the use of fentanyl-testing strips was pioneered by VCH in 2016.

A small amount of a drug is mixed with a few drops of water, the test strip is inserted into the solution, and a positive or negative result for fentanyl is revealed within seconds.

On Feb. 4, IHA issued a drug overdose warning for drug users in Penticton after two samples of crystal meth tested positive for fentanyl. The alert remains in effect until Tuesday.

Ask Wellness, the non-profit organization which operates the Burdock House supportive housing facility in Penticton, brought an FTIR drug testing machine to the facility for the first time.

More information on agency locations and hours can be found on IHA’s website: www.drugchecking.ca.

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