According to Dana Larsen, the owner of “Get Your Drugs Tested” testing centre in Vancouver, nearly half of all heroin that comes into the centre to get tested contains fentanyl. “It’s not even just fentanyl, people bring in samples that they thought they were buying fentanyl but it’s actually benzodiazepine, so the fentanyl supply isn’t even what it’s supposed to be,” Larsen said in his recent interview with Global News. “The benzos can cause overdoses that can be harder to reverse because they don’t respond to nalaxone, it’s a different kind of overdose,” he added.
Since opening in 2019, the centre has tested about 10,000 drug samples while the quantity of contaminated drugs detected by “Get Your Drugs Tested” has increased over the last year. The testing centre uses a a Fourier-transformed infrared spectroscopy (FITR) spectrometer to test street drugs with the aim of preventing overdose deaths. “Basically it’s about the size of a breadbox,” said Larsen. “It shines a laser onto your tiny drug sample and analyzes the light spectrum that comes out and matches that against our database of zillions of substances to figure out what you are taking.” According to Larsen, the $45,000 machine can produce results in 10 minutes.
Earlier in February, B.C.’s chief coroner stated that drug testing is an effective method to help reverse the rapidly increasing number of overdose deaths in the province. “We get all kinds of people coming in,” Larsen told Global News. “Often we get people coming in from other cities or other regions to get their stuff tested here.”
In 2020, B.C. recorded 1,716 deaths due to illicit drug overdoses, which is its record so far. The rise in overdose-related deaths has been linked to the pandemic, as well as the contaminated drug supply and more people using drugs alone.
“The B.C. government does offer drug testing, but it’s only at supervised injection sites,” said Larsen. “That is certainly an audience you want to reach, but if you’re an MDMA user, you’re probably not going to feel comfortable in an injection site.” Larsen recommends that anyone who uses drugs, who is able, to use the drug testing service to check their supply. “Get Your Drugs Tested” is a free service and Larsen said they will test any drug that is brought in by mail, or in person.