Less than 40% of Vancouver street drugs contain their expected substance

Aug 2 2018, 11:30 pm

The majority of street drugs tested in Vancouver don’t contain the substance people thought they’d purchased, according to results of a drug checking pilot study.

The pilot study was implemented in November 2017 and over the first six months of the study, researchers tested 1,714 substances, finding that less than two-fifths (39%) were found to contain the substance that the client expected.

Specifically, of the 1,006 (59%) samples sold as opioids, only 186 (19%) were found to contain the expected substance in any detectable amount, and 888 (88%) tested positive for fentanyl. Of the 822 samples expected to be specifically “heroin,” only 109 (13%) contained the expected substance in any amount.

Of the 400 samples sold as stimulants, 354 (89%) contained the expected substance in any amount and 18 (5%) tested positive for fentanyl.

The pilot study was implemented at two supervised consumption sites in Vancouver operated by Vancouver Coastal Health using a Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer and fentanyl test strips, which can test a range of substances, including opioids, stimulants and other psychoactive drugs such as MDMA, and provide results in a matter of minutes.

“Drug checking has revealed new information about the Vancouver downtown drug supply – not only were most of the drugs not what people thought they were, they also contained unexpected and potentially dangerous substances, including fentanyl,” said Kenneth Tupper, of the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and principal investigator of the study.

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“Our region is facing a public health emergency driven by adulterated street drugs,” said Vancouver Coastal Health’s Dr. Mark Lysyshyn. “Drug checking is a tool that helps people identify which drugs may contain toxic adulterants such as fentanyl.”

We have seen that this service encourages people to take harm reduction measures like reducing their dose so that they can avoid having an accidental overdose,” said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, a Medical Health Officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.

The City of Vancouver partnered with the BCCSU to fund the purchase and operation of a specialized drug checking machine for the pilot project in response to the ongoing epidemic of overdoses.

The Vancouver health authority service delivery area has the highest rate of illicit drug overdose deaths in the province. In 2017, 366 people in Vancouver died of an illicit drug overdose.