A new study reveals what many in the Vancouver drug treatment community have long suspected: fentanyl is in the vast majority of drugs now on the streets.

Eighty-six per cent of drugs tested at Insite over a four-week period this summer contained fentanyl, says Vancouver Coastal Health.

"This confirmed our suspicions that street drugs in Vancouver are overwhelmingly contaminated with fentanyl," said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.

"This is in line with what we were suspecting."

Free drug testing is being offered at Insite this summer for the first time as part of a pilot project, and the data comes from 173 checks performed from July 7 to Aug. 3.

When the drug being checked was heroin or mixtures containing heroin, over 90 per cent tested positive for fentanyl. The figures were lower for tests on cocaine, crystal meth and other drugs. 

Lysyshyn said the data shows the need for drug users to assume the worst when it comes to the drugs they're using, and plan accordingly. 

"It helps them understand what their personal risk of exposure is and helps them make decisions, whether they should take home a Naloxone kit, whether they should inject at Insite, whether they should always have a sober buddy with them," he said. 

​Fentanyl overdoses continue to surge

The number of deaths involving fentanyl in British Columbia has exploded this year, in spite of the government declaring a public health emergency in April.

There were 371 illegal drug overdose deaths in B.C. in the first six months of 2016, with approximately 60 per cent of them involving fentanyl. 

Lysyshyn also cautioned that the figure is likely higher than the number for all of Metro Vancouver.

"People who check their drugs at Insite are most likely to check drugs they suspect might have fentanyl in them," he said.

However, he believes it shows the degree to which fentanyl has infiltrated the supply of drugs in B.C. — and that the rest of the province needs safe injection sites like Insite.

"This is a provincial public health emergency, and all of the public health authorities are facing this crisis relating to overdoses.

"I think part of the provincial plan for this is to expand supervised injection services to all health authorities."