Opinion: Drug-checking services could help prevent overdoses

published on August 11, 2017 by Kenneth Tupper in The Vancouver Sun

In recent years across B.C., a public-health tragedy has resulted in thousands of preventable deaths from street drugs containing powerful opioids such as fentanyl or its analogs.

Toxicity from adulteration has occurred not just in the heroin supply, but also in stimulants, club drugs and counterfeit pills. Border agents and police have tried to reduce or disrupt the supply, but they have had little success in stemming the tide of illicit drug importation and consequent deaths.

A public health emergency relating to the drug-overdose situation was declared by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall in April 2016, and more than a year later the deaths continue on a daily basis.

In response, a range of harm-reduction interventions have been scaled up — including public education, take-home naloxone kits (an antidote to opioids that can revive someone who has overdosed) and supervised consumption services. These measures have undoubtedly saved lives, yet the toxicity of the drug supply hasn’t diminished.

However, there is one approach that might help to reduce the risk of overdoses, but hasn’t been rigorously tried yet in Canada: drug-checking.

Drug-checking refers to a service where individuals are able to anonymously submit samples of street drugs to have them analyzed to determine their chemical constituents. As with many harm-reduction interventions, drug-checking is not new: it exists in a range of settings in a number of European countries.


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