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Vancouver drug tester says nearly half of all heroin that comes in contains fentanyl

Click to play video: 'Former Vancouver cannabis dispensary helps test street drugs' Former Vancouver cannabis dispensary helps test street drugs
One of the ways B.C.'s chief coroner says we can help reverse the skyrocketing number of overdose deaths is to have the drugs tested. Longtime-pot activist Dana Larsen says an organization he's involved with has tested more than 10,000 street drugs over the past year and a half - and saved countless lives in the process. Aaron McArthur reports – Feb 11, 2021

The owner of the “Get Your Drugs Tested” centre on Vancouver’s East Hastings Street says he isn’t surprised 2020 was a record breaking year for illicit drug overdoses in B.C., because the street drugs he tests are extremely contaminated right now.

Dana Larsen told Global News nearly half of all heroin that comes in to the centre to get tested contains fentanyl.

Click to play video: 'BC Coroner Service reports surge in drug deaths amid COVID-19 pandemic' BC Coroner Service reports surge in drug deaths amid COVID-19 pandemic
BC Coroner Service reports surge in drug deaths amid COVID-19 pandemic – Feb 11, 2021

“It’s not even just fentanyl, people bring in samples that they thought they were buying fentanyl but it’s actually benzodiazepine, so the fentanyl supply isn’t even what it’s supposed to be,” he said.

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“The benzos can cause overdoses that can be harder to reverse because they don’t respond to nalaxone, it’s a different kind of overdose.”

Read more: Advocate calls for coronavirus-scale response to OD crisis as Okanagan records 143 deaths in 2020

The centre has tested about 10,000 drug samples since its inception in 2019, Larsen said, adding that the quantity of contaminated drugs he sees has increased over the last year.

“We get all kinds of people coming in,” he said. “Often we get people coming in from other cities or other regions to get their stuff tested here.”

The service is free, and Larsen says they’ll test any drug than is brought in either in-person or by mail.

They use a machine called a FITR spectrometer, which stands for “Fourier-transformed infrared spectroscopy.”

“Basically it’s the about the size of a breadbox,” he said. “It shines a laser onto your tiny drug sample and analyzes the light spectrum that comes out and matches that against our database of zillions of substances to figure out what you are taking.”

Click to play video: 'BC Coroners Service says 2020 was province’s worst year for illicit drug overdoses' BC Coroners Service says 2020 was province’s worst year for illicit drug overdoses
BC Coroners Service says 2020 was province’s worst year for illicit drug overdoses – Feb 11, 2021

Read more: 5 people a day in B.C. died from an overdose, latest numbers show

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Larsen says the $45,000 machine can produce the results in five to 10 minutes.

They post the results to an online database as well.

He’s now calling on the provincial government to make drug testing more widely available.

“The B.C. government does offer drug testing, but it’s only at supervised injection sites,” he said.

“That is certainly an audience you want to reach, but if you’re an MDMA user, you’re probably not going to feel comfortable in an injection site.”

On Thursday, B.C.’s chief coroner identified drug testing as one path to help reverse the skyrocketing number of overdose deaths in the province.

In 2020, B.C. recorded a record-breaking 1,716 deaths due to an illicit drug overdose. The high numbers are being blamed on the pandemic combined with a contaminated drug supply and more people using alone.

Larsen recommends that anyone who uses drugs has them tested first.

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