PHS houses two high-tech drug checking machines on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Based at Insite and Molson Overdose Prevention Site, these use mass spectrometry to check community members’ drugs. The precise technology measures the molecular mass of ions in a sample, producing a readout listing the type, amount and strength of active ingredients.
The unregulated drug supply is particularly dangerous because people ordinarily don’t know what they are consuming. This is for a number of reasons:
- Opioids are sold at wildly varying strengths.
- The addition of cutting agents such as benzodiazepines and the veterinary sedative xylazine makes fentanyl even more dangerous, and the overdose response more complicated. (In addition, extended xylazine use has been blamed for skin ulcers and abscesses.)
- Cross-contamination of stimulants with fentanyl. This is a particular concern, as users of stimulants probably have little opioid tolerance and are less likely to be around people with naloxone in case of fentanyl overdose
Drug checking machines establish the purity of a sample, noting the presence of anything beyond what an individual was expecting to purchase.
The process gives people a clear idea of what they are taking, enabling them to make informed decisions about whether to use and how much to use.
Testing takes a few minutes in the hands of a skilled technician.
Drug checking machines aren’t market regulation or safe supply, but they are the next best thing: innovative tools that give important information to consumers to reduce harm.
Vancouver Coastal Health, British Columbia Centre on Substance Use