Winnipeg pharmacy to stock $5 kit to test for fentanyl in street drugs
Brothers Pharmacy to stock $5 test strips to determine if street drugs are laced with fentanyl
A Winnipeg pharmacy will soon sell tests to help people find out if their drugs are laced with fentanyl.
Fentanyl, a powerful prescription painkiller, is responsible for an increasing number of deaths and overdoses across Canada – with health officials calling the situation a nation-wide "disaster."
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Now, Brothers Pharmacy on Selkirk Avenue has ordered testing strips that will show if drugs are laced.
"One of the problems I've seen is people get addicted to opiates without knowing they're taking opiates," said Michael Watts, the owner and manager of Brothers Pharmacy. "A lot of the dealers will lace cocaine, lace marijuana with fentanyl powder. Then all of a sudden the person becomes addicted to opiates without knowingly taking an opiate."
When Watts heard other provinces were offering fentanyl tests for drug users, he did some research.
Drug testing kits are nothing new.
They can be ordered online and range in price from $15 to $60.The tests can tell users what their drugs are laced with or if the drug they purchased is what it says it is.
Brothers Pharmacy is starting with a $5 test strip for fentanyl contamination.
"They would have to put a small amount of their drug in water and then dip the test into water. As long as the drug is water-soluble, it'll come up in the test," said Watts. "We're actively searching for a test that will test a wider range of drugs."
86% of drugs contaminated, B.C. clinic finds
In Vancouver, public health clinic Insite has been offering fentanyl tests for free since July.
In their first month, they found 86 per cent of the drugs checked by users were positive for fentanyl.
"We've been telling them, 'Fentanyl is on the street. Be careful,' but they don't necessarily have a sense of, 'Well, what about the drugs I'm taking?'" said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health. "We track whether [drugs are] positive or negative [for fentanyl] and then we post it on posters so even people who don't check their drugs can get the information."
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Lysyshyn said there are some limitations with the fentanyl test they're using right now and the tests Brothers Pharmacy is starting out with.
The test strips were originally designed to test urine for fentanyl, but health officials in B.C. discovered they could be used directly on street drugs — if they're water-soluble.
"We do think these tests are better offered in the community. That's the ideal place to use them, but we're just trying to determine if it's safe to do that," said Lysyshyn, who added he thinks with proper instruction, people should be capable of using the drug tests at home.
Insite staff have seen very few people discard their drugs after finding out they are contaminated, but people are reducing their doses.
Lysyshyn thinks drug-disposal numbers could be higher if people are out in the community, rather than at a supervised injection site.
B.C. health officials are still hoping to determine if the tests are leading drug users to make safer choices, like going to a supervised space to use drugs, finding someone to watch them or reducing doses.
WRHA, moms interested in tests
In Winnipeg, Brother's Pharmacy has already been approached by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority about purchasing the strips.
The group of mothers who have been touched by addiction or overdose is expected to get training on how to use the strips in the next few weeks when the tests arrive in store.
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But Watts said for overdoses and deaths to decrease in Manitoba, education and perception of drug users needs to shift.
"Public perception about this type of clientele is a little skewed," said Watts. "They just need help, and right now there's not a lot of help out there for them."