Research Breakthroughs: Overdose Crisis Intervention

published on July 17, 2018 by Gail Johnson in St Pauls Foundation

Vancouver Foundation steps up for the community in a time of crisis, making significant donations to support the work of the BC Centre on Substance Use

As BC grapples with the fentanyl crisis, opioid-related overdoses have become the province’s leading cause of unnatural death. The BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU), based at St. Paul’s, has taken a leading role in responding to this unprecedented public-health emergency. The public is also responding; Vancouver Foundation, Canada’s largest community foundation, is working to connect donors with non-profits, like St. Paul’s Foundation, in an effort to build meaningful and lasting change, when and where it is needed most. Most recently, Vancouver Foundation committed support to the BCCSU, which has enabled the centre to launch several key initiatives aimed at preventing deadly overdoses.

Research into drug checking is one of them. Of the 1,422 overdose deaths that occurred in the province last year, over 80 per cent involved fentanyl. Drug checking, using a quick and portable Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) machine, allows people to have the contents of street-acquired drugs analyzed on the spot and receive fact-based consultation about those compounds and their associated risks. This enables clients to make choices about where, how much, with whom or even whether to use the illicit drug they’ve obtained, which often isn’t what they thought it was. BCCSU is testing the drug-checking service in Vancouver, the first project of its kind in Canada.

“Drug checking puts in place a consumer safety mechanism,” says project lead Dr. Kenneth Tupper, BCCSU’s director of implementation and partnerships. Tupper notes that the majority of the nearly 1,000 samples tested by the BCCSU between November 2017 and February 2018 were opioids (60 per cent). Of these samples, 88 per cent tested positive for fentanyl, and while the vast majority of opioid-using clients said they had bought “heroin,” only 18 per cent of samples were found to contain actual heroin (diacetylmorphine). “There’s no quality control over the distribution of illicit substances. This testing gives information directly to clients to allow for better-informed and safer decision-making,” Tupper says.

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