New drug testing machines show what is in Ottawa’s supply

Nov 10, 2023

Earlier in September, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) announced that it will begin sharing the results of drug tests conducted at supervised injection sites online to provide information to the public regarding the composition of the city’s illicit drug supply.

Moreover, drug-testing data will be provided by four new drug-testing machines, two of which will be purchased by OPH, in addition to two others obtained through a provincial research initiative. Currently, safe injection sites which provide drug testing in Ottawa include Shepherds of Good Hope and Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. 

In addition, OPH plans to implement the use of a drug testing machine at its ByWard Market facility and provide another machine to Somerset West Community Health Centre, as well as to begin operating the machines before the end of the year. Subsequently, OPH will provide relevant information publicly on its online Mental Health, Addictions and Substance Use Health Dashboard.

“It actually is shown, in other places where they use drug-checking, to change people’s behaviour, to help people go slower on what they’re using or decide they’re not going to use that,” said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, in her interview with CBC News.

“It is complex these days. What’s in the drug supply is very unknown and as we’re seeing it can be deadly, even one use.” Dr. Etches also added that the new machines will do more than save lives, since they’ll also provide broad-based information that can inform the entire community.

Ottawa Public Health data shows that in the first three months of 2023, there were 49 deaths linked to opioid-related overdoses in the city. Furthermore, in May and July, there were record numbers of emergency room visits for opioid overdoses this year, totalling 135 visits for each of those months.

At a recent board of health meeting, Alta Vista Coun. Marty Carr moved a motion directing OPH to increase public awareness, as well as to improve data sharing, and further develop its multi-sector overdose strategy to respond to the growing drug overdose crisis. 

Dr. Etches added that there have been growing concerns since “strategies aren’t connected and it’s not clear what’s being done,” and highlighted the importance of strengthening an overdose prevention and response task force, due to the need to “reinvigorate” it and add new members.