The new drug checking machine is unveiled at a media event at Powell Street Getaway.

VCH first in Canada to trial drug checking technology

To provide potentially life-saving information to people who use drugs, VCH is helping to trial a new drug checking service – the first of its kind in Canada.

The City of Vancouver and BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) are funding the purchase and operation of a specialized drug checking machine for a pilot project, which started last week, to evaluate the effectiveness of drug checking services. The portable machine is now being used at Insite and Powell Street Getaway supervised consumption service.

Dr Patricia Daly watches a test being performed on the new machine.

Drug checking allows people to anonymously submit samples of street drugs to be analyzed for their chemical makeup. The new machine, called a Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR), can test a range of substances, including opioids, stimulants and other psychoactive drugs such MDMA. Testing with the FTIR can identify multiple compounds at once in a matter of minutes.

“With dangerous drugs like fentanyl contaminating the majority of street drugs, giving people information on what’s in the substances they are using can help them make informed decisions about whether or how much they consume – and could save lives,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

BCCSU will evaluate how people use the new service, and whether it connects them to substance use treatment and reduces the risk of overdose. The study will also investigate whether people who use alone or don’t access other harm reduction services use the new drug checking service. The service will also provide drug surveillance data that will include a detailed analysis of what’s in the illegal drug supply.

The new FTIR drug checking service is available at Insite on Mondays and Tuesdays from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Powell Street Getaway on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions is also expanding the use of fentanyl test strips in all supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites in B.C., something which VCH Medical Health Officer Mark Lysyshyn began more than a year ago here in Vancouver.

“Using the fentanyl test strips at Insite has shown us that when people get a positive fentanyl result they are more likely to reduce their dose and less likely to overdose,” said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, a Medical Health Officer. “So we know that drug checking can help people make safer choices. But we also know that drug checking isn’t perfect. It needs to be used along with other harm reduction practices.”

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