British Columbia

High levels of fentanyl — and deceit — detected in Vancouver street-drug supply

A drug-testing pilot project found 61 per cent of illegal drugs submitted contained none of the substance buyers were expecting.

Drug-testing project finds 61% of illegal drugs contained none of the substance buyers were expecting

The Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectrometer machine allows people to anonymously submit samples of street drugs to be tested for opioids, stimulants and other drugs like MDMA. (Belle Puri/CBC)

The B.C. Centre on Substance Use says fentanyl cut with caffeine and a sugar substitute is being sold as heroin on Vancouver's streets.

Dr. Ken Tupper says the heroin supply has largely been supplanted, based on data from a drug-checking pilot project launched last November in a bid to stem the overdose crisis.

Testing showed that heroin was present in just 13 per cent of samples brought in by people who thought they had bought the drug. 

Overall, 61 per cent of the substances tested at two supervised consumption sites between November and April didn't contain any of the drug that people had expected.

Insite offers drug testing Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. PT. (Radio-Canada)

Additionally, fentanyl was found to be present in 88 per cent of all the opioid samples submitted for testing.

"Drug checking has revealed new information about the Vancouver downtown drug supply," said Tupper. "Not only were most of the drugs not what people thought they were, they also contained unexpected and potentially dangerous substances, including fentanyl." 

The B.C. Coroners Service has said fentanyl was detected in about 83 per cent of the more than 1,400 overdose deaths last year in the province.

The first six months of the program saw more than 1,700 samples tested using fentanyl test strips and a spectrometer.

Drug checking services are available at Insite Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. PT.

In 2017, 366 people died of illicit drug overdoses in Vancouver alone.

The spectrometer can detect multiple substances at once, within minutes, according to the province. (Frederic Gagnon/CBC)

With files from Canadian Press