Kitchener’s consumption and treatment services (CTS) site obtained a new rapid drug testing machine in August with the aim of reducing local drug poisonings, as well as to help “clean up” the local drug supply and provide more information for individuals who consume drugs.
The Scatr machine at the site is used to scan a small drug sample to determine the drug composition and potency. “We’ve had people come in and they tell us what they think it is, and then it’s not that at all, so they’re quite surprised,” said Margo McConnell, a peer worker at the site, in her interview with the Waterloo Region Record. “So it’s good to see there’s definitely choices being made by people.” According to McConnell, so far, most tests have been carried out on fentanyl samples, or what site users thought was fentanyl.
The machine provides brief results in 2.5 minutes, and a more specific explanation of the sample contents in 7.5 minutes. In addition, a 15-minute test provides a thorough explanation of the sample components.
The Scatr machine used by Kitchener’s CTS is one of 11 machines located across Canada and funded as a two-year pilot project by Health Canada, in partnerships with Western University, the manufacturer, and public health funds. Further, data received from each of the machines is added to a database to compile national data which can help identify substances at other sites.
According to Leigh Wardlaw, who is managing the drug testing project, the most common substances identified so far were caffeine, the sweetener mannitol — a low-calorie sweetener, and dimethyl sulphate, a chemical compound used to manufacture perfumes and dyes that can cause damage to lungs, liver, kidneys and central nervous system.
“It’s giving the power back to the people who use drugs to give them that choice of whether they’re going to use that substance or not because before, you don’t know what’s in it (and) you’re using it,” said Wardlaw. “Once people get their stuff tested they go out and will spread that news, so it’s going to be able to get that information out immediately.”
In addition, none of the samples have tested positive for Xylazine, a powerful animal tranquilizer that can increase the risk of toxic overdose when mixed with opioids. Preliminary data from the Ontario coroner’s office demonstrates that so far in 2023, 56 people died of drug poisoning in the Waterloo Region.