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Access to take home drug checking strips expands to over 30 Saskatchewan locations

Drug checking strips will be made available in more than 30 locations across the province. Photo: Government of Saskatchewan

Drug checking strips are now available to more Saskatchewan residents.

The provincial government announced Tuesday that access to fentanyl and benzodiazepine drug checking strips will expand to more than 30 locations across Saskatchewan. The strips are intended for at-home drug checking.

The government’s hope is that the testing strips will help reduce the number of overdose deaths in the province.

“The tragedy of overdose and toxic street drug deaths continue to be a heavy burden on our communities,” stated Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley in Tuesday’s announcement. “Our government remains committed to expanding addictions services, and providing widespread access to drug checking strips is one way to save lives.”

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, test strips were only available in Regina and Saskatoon. Now, the strips are accessible in communities including Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Yorkton and others.

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Read more: Sask. government providing drug checking test strips in Regina, Saskatoon

Fentanyl — a drug which cannot be seen, smelled or tasted — has been involved in 108 of the 149 confirmed accidental toxic drug deaths in 2021 in Saskatchewan. The drug is 50 to 100 times more toxic than other opiods.

Officials say mixing benzodiazepines (benzos) with opioids increases the risk of overdose since they both have sedative properties. The government also notes naloxone, which normally reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, is not effective in counteracting benzodiazepines.

“We are grateful anytime we see the adoption of evidence-based harm reduction measures on a large scale,” said Marie Agioritis, who serves as the Saskatchewan lead of Mom’s Stop the Harm Canada.

“It gives me hope that someone else’s mother could be spared the pain of burying a child. These test strips will save lives. Let’s get them into the hands of people who need them.”

However, a negative result on a test strip does not guarantee the substance is safe, according to the government.

Read more: Sask. coroner estimates record-breaking year for drug overdose deaths

Test strips will only identify if certain fentanyl or benzos compounds are present in the portion of the drugs tested. Strips will not detect other drugs and do not show the amount of fentanyl or benzos present in the substance.

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These strips should be viewed as an additional tool to limit potential overdoses, the government said.

“This is a major step to help reduce the risk of overdoses throughout Saskatchewan,” Prairie Harm Reduction Executive Director Jason Mercredi said. “Prairie Harm Reduction is pleased to be a partner with the Government of Saskatchewan to ensure this harm reduction tool is widely available to everyone in Saskatchewan — both urban and rural.”

Information on which locations have drug checking strips is available on the government’s website.

Additional overdose information

Residents are reminded to call 9-1-1 in the event of an overdose. The Ministry of Health asks all those using street drugs to not use alone.

Naloxone kits to reverse opioid overdoses are available throughout the province.

People cannot be charged for possession of an illegal substance if they are calling for assistance during an overdose under the Good Samaritan Act.

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