Vancouver, BC – The results of a pilot project at Insite have found that when clients know their drugs contain fentanyl, the drug partly responsible for the overdose crisis, they're more likely to reduce their dose and less likely to have an overdose.
"When we launched this pilot we were hoping it would persuade people to use harm reduction strategies," says Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). "This is exactly what we are seeing, so we're encouraged to know that empowering people with information about their risks is leading to safer choices."
Over the past nine months (July 2016 to March 2017) clients at Insite checked their drugs more than 1,000 times. Overall, 79% of drugs checked were positive for fentanyl, including 83% of heroin samples.
Clients use a test strip, a product originally developed to check urine, at their injection booth. 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; it does not detect other types of fentanyl analogues like Carfentanil.
Insite clients could check their substances prior to or after consumption, with 62% checking post-consumption. Clients who checked prior to consumption, with a positive result, were 10 times more likely to reduce their dose and clients who reduced their dose were 25% less likely to overdose.
"We'd like to see more people check prior to their use so that we can determine whether this could be effective for people who don't go to Insite or an overdose prevention site," says Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer and the Vice President, Public Health for VCH. "With the majority of overdose victims dying alone, if proven to work, drug checking could save lives."
Insite staff will continue to offer fentanyl checks and results will continue to be monitored. The results will also continue to be posted regularly at Insite for clients to view.
Insite, North America's first legal supervised injection site, has been offering supervised
injection services for people who use illicit drugs since 2003. Insite had an average of 440 injection room visits per day. No deaths have ever occurred at the facility.
VCH's fentanyl testing pilot project at Insite supports the work of the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response established in 2016. As part of the wide range of actions taken, partners across the health system continue to expand access to life-saving naloxone and opioid addiction medications and treatments such as Suboxone, open more overdose prevention sites, work with Health Canada on approvals to open additional supervised consumption sites and improve the system of substance use services.
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.
Tiffany Akins, Communications Leader
Vancouver Coastal Health