Vancouver Pride celebration to offer anonymous drug checks
A spectrometer will test substances including opioids, stimulants and MDMA
For the first time, those planning to use street drugs at Vancouver's Pride celebration can anonymously screen them for dangerous substances like fentanyl.
As Pride weekend kicks off Friday evening, a drug checking machine called a spectrometer will be available to the public between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Health Initiative for Men clinic on Davie Street.
The spectrometer will test a range of substances including opioids, stimulants and other psychoactive drugs such as MDMA.
Using only a small sample, the machine analyzes the chemical composition of a drug and within a few minutes a technician will be able to tell users if their substances contain toxic adulterants such as fentanyl.
Tests are anonymous
The tests will be fully anonymous and drug users will not be asked to give any identifying information, said Len Tooley, research and evaluation manager at the Community-Based Research Centre for Gay Men's Health.
"We've notified the Vancouver Police Department about it, and they've given the go-ahead, so we've done everything we can to ensure that it's a safe space where people can confidentially get their drugs tested and have a safe and happy Pride."
Tooley said HIM will also be offering naloxone kits and fentanyl testing strips on Friday night.
Potentially life-saving information
A VCH drug checking study released in May, 2018, showed that over a six-month period only 39 per cent of the drugs tested contained the substance the user was expecting. For opioids tested, that number dropped to 19 per cent.
Eighty-eight per cent of opioids screened tested positive for fentanyl.
The spectrometer is used three days a week at Insite, a VCH supervised injection site and was rolled out for festival use during the 2018 season as a way to make potentially life-saving information more widely available, said Tiffany Atkins of VCH.
Drug users at the Electric Love festival in July were the first in B.C. to take advantage of the service and Atkins said no fentanyl was detected during those tests.
A matter of equity
Providing drug safety checks at Pride is a matter of equity according to Tooley.
"There is an an going fentanyl poisoning crisis and overdose crisis in B.C., and the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and Vancouver Coastal Health, they have been offering drug checking at festivals throughout the province, so we wanted to make sure that service was available to the queer and trans community."
Drug checking will also be offered at the Shambhala Music Festival on Aug. 10.