Western provinces considering implementing more harm reduction drug testing programs

Oct 25, 2022

Amid the opioid crisis which is hitting our country, western provinces have witnessed a record number of overdose deaths linked to toxic drug supply. According to data released by the federal government, during the first two years of the pandemic, there was a 91% increase in apparent opioid toxicity deaths compared to the two years before. Specifically, the majority of deaths occurred in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario.

In August, the Edmonton city council announced it is considering operating a drug testing service to check drugs for toxic adulterants such as fentanyl and other powerful opioids in order to reduce the incidence of lethal overdoses. According to the report published by the city council, drug checking services are one of the potential options to address deadly drug poisonings in Edmonton. “The complexity of this issue signals that significant further exploration and engagement would be required in order to bring forward options or a proposal,” states the report.

In the first six months of 2022, 295 people died from a drug overdose in Edmonton, while 50% of accidental opioid poisoning deaths took place in privately owned residences where the deceased lived permanently, according to data released by Alberta Health. In addition, around 20% of deaths occurred in a public, non-secure location.

“If we can detect the fentanyl in someone’s drug consumption, if we can save one life, that’s worth it, ” said Councillor Jo-Anne Wright in her interview with Global News.

The report also states that the city would need to further engage social agencies and affected people, as well as carry out an in-depth analysis to understand programs in other jurisdictions.

Earlier this year, Calgary had already approved a drug-checking pilot and received an 18-month grant from Health Canada. In addition, the Alberta Alliance Who Educates and Advocates Responsibly (AAWEAR) has announced its plans to pilot a mobile drug-checking unit.

Meanwhile, B.C. Interior Health has expanded its drug checking services to mitigate the increasing number of overdose deaths, with Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy technology now available in Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, Kamloops, Merritt, Cranbrook, Nelson, and Trail. Interior Health data demonstrates that illicit fentanyl and its analogues were involved in over 85 % of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2021. The health authority has recently issued a regional drug alert remains following five deaths linked to toxic drug supply in Kelowna and West Kelowna on Sept. 24.

Currently, there are two free drug-checking services in B.C., including Get Your Drugs Tested and the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project.