Cheap and easy: fentanyl test strips show promise as new tool in B.C.’s struggle with overdose deaths

published on September 21, 2016 by Travis Lupick in The Georgia Straight

While Insite is still the only bricks-and-mortar location in Vancouver where one can obtain a testing strip for fentanyl, the kits are more easily available than most people know

Since mid-July, an experiment at Insite, Vancouver’s supervised-injection facility, has allowed drug users to test substances for fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is largely responsible for B.C.’s fatal-overdose epidemic.

Last Sunday morning (September 18), the Straight watched a drug user take a tiny amount of white powder and place it in a small dish to which water was added. The individual then dipped a paper testing strip into the solution and gave it a little stir.

Less than one minute later, two lines appeared on the piece of paper. The white substance did not contain fentanyl, according to those two lines. If it had, only one line would have appeared.

That result was atypical. According to the latest data supplied by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), 85 percent of heroin mixtures (and 80 percent of all drugs) checked at Insite between July 7 and September 8 (332 checks) tested positive for fentanyl.

For now, the test strips are only available at Insite“”on East Hastings Street near Main Street””on a trial basis. They were designed for urinary analysis and adapted to test raw substances at VCH’s request. Questions remain about their effectiveness and impact on user behaviour, but Vancouver health authorities and practitioners told the Straight the test strips have “huge potential” as a new tool that could help bring the province’s skyrocketing rate of overdose deaths back under control.

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