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Vancouver, BC – Drug checking, offered at Insite for the first time as a pilot, has found that 86 per cent of drugs were positive for fentanyl, the dangerous drug responsible for hundreds of fatal overdoses.
“These initial results confirm our suspicion that the local drug supply is overwhelmingly contaminated with fentanyl,” says Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). “We’re hoping this information can help people who use drugs.”
Nurses at Insite have been offering each client a test strip so they can check their drugs at their injection station. The client dilutes their substance with a few drops of water and a positive or negative for fentanyl is revealed within seconds. This method exclusively checks for fentanyl and no other substances.
In the first month of testing, from July 7 to August 3, 173 checks were performed. When clients checked heroin or mixtures containing heroin 90 per cent of the checks were positive for fentanyl. Fewer checks were performed on cocaine, crack, speed and crystal meth and were less likely to be positive.
The results are being posted regularly at Insite for clients to view.
“We’ve heard from clients that they want to know what’s in their drugs,” says Dr. Lysyshyn. “With the number of overdoses rising it’s critical to empower people to learn about their risk of being exposed to this toxic substance. We’re hoping this will encourage them to use our harm reduction services like take-home naloxone kits, consider undergoing addiction treatment and take precautions like decreasing their dose or not using alone.”
“For the nurses it’s great to have another service we can offer to help reduce the risks for clients,” says Registered Nurse Marjory Ditmars, who works at Insite. “It also provides another opportunity to engage in those critically important harm reduction conversations around safer drug use.”
The test strips are a product originally developed to check urine for fentanyl, and not intended for drug-checking, so the Insite program is a pilot project. After several months, staff will evaluate the results to determine if it’s helping clients and whether to continue the service.
Even though the number of daily visits to Insite has remained steady over the years, there were four times as many overdoses (573) at Insite from January to July as there were during the same period a decade ago (132 overdoses in Jan.- July 2006). Nurses are also eight times more likely to have to use naloxone to reverse overdose in 2016 compared to 2006. There have been no fatal overdoses at Insite since it opened in 2003.
“Checking drugs at Insite is just one initiative involved in our comprehensive response battle to fight this public health crisis,” says Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer and the Vice President, Public Health for VCH. “We are also expanding low barrier addiction services, increasing availability of naloxone kits to treat overdoses and expanding supervised injection services.”
All of the initiatives support the work of the newly formed Joint Task Force on Overdose Response. Headed by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall and Director of Police Services Clayton Pecknold, the task force provides leadership and expert advice to the Province on emergency actions to prevent and respond to overdoses in British Columbia. The actions also align with recommendations identified by the BC Overdose Action Exchange. As part of this work, B.C.’s public awareness campaign and website for overdose response and prevention launched today, on International Overdose day. For more information, please visit gov.bc.ca/overdose.
VCH is responsible for the delivery of $3.4 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
Vancouver Coastal Health
Phone: (604) 708-5281
Cell: (604) 319-7530