A pilot program at Vancouver’s supervised injection site Insite has discovered that 86% of drugs checked contained fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that’s 50 times more potent than pure heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
The drug has been linked to hundreds of overdoses in BC.
According to Insite, even though the number of daily visits to the facility has remained steady, there were four times as many overdoses (573) from January to July this year as there were during the same period a decade ago (136).
Nurses are also eight times more likely to have to use naloxone to reverse overdose in 2016 compared to 2006. There have been no fatal overdoses at Insite since it opened in 2003.
“These initial results confirm our suspicion that the local drug supply is overwhelmingly contaminated with fentanyl,” Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) said in a release. “We’re hoping this information can help people who use drugs.”
In the first month of testing, from July 7 to August 3, 173 checks were performed. When clients checked heroin or mixtures containing heroin, 90% of the checks were positive for fentanyl. Fewer checks were performed on cocaine, crack, speed and crystal meth as these drugs were less likely to be positive.
The results are being posted regularly at Insite for clients to view.
“We’ve heard from clients that they want to know what’s in their drugs,” says Dr. Lysyshyn. “With the number of overdoses rising it’s critical to empower people to learn about their risk of being exposed to this toxic substance. We’re hoping this will encourage them to use our harm reduction services like take-home naloxone kits, consider undergoing addiction treatment and take precautions like decreasing their dose or not using alone.”
The tests work using a strip so that clients can check their drugs at their injection station. The client dilutes their substance with a few drops of water and a positive or negative for fentanyl is revealed within seconds. This method exclusively checks for fentanyl and no other substances.
The test strips are a product originally developed to check urine for fentanyl, and not intended for drug-checking, so the Insite program is a pilot project. After several months, staff will evaluate the results to determine if it’s helping clients and whether to continue the service.