PHS operates two high-tech drug checking machines in the Downtown Eastside.

Based at Insite and Molson Overdose Prevention Site (MOPS), these use mass spectrometry to measure the precise molecular mass of ions in a sample, producing a readout listing the type, amount and strength of opioids and cutting agents.

The addition of benzodiazepines makes fentanyl even more dangerous and also makes overdose response more complicated. Even more worrying is fentanyl cross-contamination of stimulants, as users of this class of drug would likely have little opioid tolerance and may be less likely to be around people with naloxone.

Knowing what’s in your drugs allows you to make informed choices. For example, you might opt to use a smaller amount or use in the presence of someone else.

Testing takes a few minutes in the hands of a skilled technician, and it’s a peer-led service, which helps increase participation from folks attending MOPS.

Also, people selling drugs come in to check their supplies. Often, individuals selling in the DTES are doing so to pay for their own drug use. Information about strength and adulteration allows them to direct batches to specific individuals based on tastes and tolerances. It’s all harm reduction.

Drug checking machines aren’t market regulation or safe supply. But they are innovative tools to give important information to consumers that reduces harm.

There’s also a spectrometer and technician available at Get Your Drugs Tested (880 East Hastings), daily from 12 – 8 pm.

For more info, check out the Vancouver Coastal Health overview of available services, locations and opening hours.