Vancouver, BC – With no end in sight to the overdose crisis Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is expanding its pilot project to offer more locations for people to check their drugs for fentanyl, the toxin contaminating the drug supply, responsible for hundreds of overdose deaths.
Clients can now check their drugs for fentanyl at any of Vancouver's four overdose prevention sites and Powell Street Getaway supervised injection service, in addition to Insite.
"With dangerous drugs like fentanyl contaminating the vast majority of street drugs, empowering people to understand what's in the substances they use can help them make informed decisions about whether or how much they consume," said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy. "At the provincial level we are actively looking at how we might roll out such drug checking services more broadly. The information being gathered by Vancouver Coastal Health with this project will be invaluable to this work."
The expanded drug-checking service is free, with results being posted regularly at the sites for clients to view.
"When we launched the checking service at Insite last year we were hoping it would persuade people to use more safely," says Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, Medical Health Officer with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). "This is exactly what we're seeing at Insite, so now we can arm even more people with information about their risks, so they will make safer choices."
At Insite clients who checked prior to consumption and got 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 use our health services," 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."
The drug-checking service has been running at Insite for the last year (July 7, 2016 to July 14, 2017). So far more than 1,400 checks have been done. Overall, 80% of drugs checked were positive for fentanyl, including 84% of heroin samples, and 65% of non-opiate drugs such as crystal meth, ecstasy/MDMA, and cocaine.
Clients use a test strip, a product originally developed to check urine, at their 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 checks for fentanyl, and has recently been discovered effective to also detect several other fentanyl analogues including carfentanil.
There are approximately 1000 visits to the overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites every day. For more information about overdoses, and where the checking services are located, visit www.vch.ca/overdose.
VCH's expanded pilot on drug checking services supports the work of the new Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions established in 2017 and 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 $3.3 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
Phone: (604) 708-5281
Cell: (604) 319-7530