British Columbia

Health officials hand out free fentanyl-testing kits for British Columbians to use at home

Health officials are handing out free fentanyl-testing kits so British Columbians can test their drugs at home in a new pilot project aimed at addressing the overdose crisis.

The pilot project studies how effectively the kits can be used without the help of a trained technician

The strips show if fentanyl is present in the drug being tested, with results available within minutes. (Submitted by Vancouver Coastal Health )

Health officials are handing out free fentanyl-testing kits, so British Columbians can test their drugs at home, in a new pilot project to address the overdose crisis.

Fentanyl, a very strong synthetic opioid, was responsible for about 87 per cent of illicit drug-overdose deaths in B.C. last year — that's 1,310 deaths where fentanyl was detected.

"We know there's this contaminant in our drug supply and we thought if we could help people identify it, it might keep them safe," said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.

He's one of the researchers behind the project, which is a collaboration between VCH and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, trying to see how well people are able to use the testing kits on their own at home.

Fentanyl testing is generally available at public facilities and safe consumption sites.

But that's doesn't get to the heart of the overdose deaths, Dr. Lysyshyn said.

"The best place for people to use [these drug testing kits] would be at home," he told CBC's On The Coast.

"People are dying by themselves behind closed doors and if they can test their drugs at home they might make different choices."

That could range from throwing out the contaminated drug, Dr. Lysyshyn said, or choosing to take it with other people around who know how to use naloxone if an overdose does occur.

"For every person, it's an individual decision," he said.

'Easy to use'

The kits come with five testing strips which are then dipped into a small amount of the drug diluted in water. Within minutes, the results — either the presence or absence of fentanyl — is revealed.

"They're pretty easy to use," Dr. Lysyshyn said.

The project will compare the results of take-home drug checking with drug checking services at public sites to see how well the kits can be used by drug users at home without the help of a trained technician.

If the project is successful, Dr.Lysyshyn said the goal would be to make the tests more widely available.

"One of the hopes I have for drug checking is that, as people start to understand just how contaminated the drug supply is, we'll eventually do something to make the drug supply safer," he said.

The kits are being handed out at several overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites in Vancouver and, with the help of Interior Health, in Kamloops, Cranbrook, Merritt, Nelson, Penticton and Vernon.

With files from On The Coast

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