HomeNews & TopicsHealth Care PolicyDrug checking expands in Vancouver

Drug checking expands in Vancouver

Published on

By Carrie Stefanson

People who use drugs now have additional tools to check them for toxicity. Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has partnered with PHS Community Services Society and Lookout Housing and Health Society to buy two more drug-checking machines. Drug checking is an emerging harm reduction strategy that may help prevent overdose deaths.

The new Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectrometers (FTIR) will rotate between supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites in Vancouver. They can test a range of substances, including opioids, stimulants and other psychoactive drugs such as MDMA. The machines work by identifying the molecular fingerprint for each drug sample.

Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR Spectrometer)

  • Detects a wide variety of compounds as well as fentanyl and fentanyl analogues;
  • Can provide information about how much of a substance is present;
  • Portable (desktop-size machine);
  • Analyzes a sample in under two minutes.

“Contaminated street drugs are taking lives every single day so we are always looking to add more innovative tools to our toolbox,” says Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “The more knowledge we have about what is contaminating the illegal drug supply the better equipped we are to stem the tide of the overdose crisis.”

“We know that drug-checking along with other harm reduction practices and programs can help people make safer choices,” says VCH Medical Health Officer Dr. Mark Lysyshyn. A recently published study by Dr. Lysyshyn and other substance-use experts found people who received a positive drug check before using drugs were 10 times more likely to reduce their dose and 25 per cent less likely to overdose.

“When people come in to check their drugs it can encourage them to use their drugs in a supervised setting so they’re not using alone and overdosing alone, says Amy Villis, director of health services, Lookout Housing and Health Society. “We know that using alone is a huge risk factor when it comes to dying of a drug overdose, and no one has ever died of an overdose at an overdose prevention site or a supervised consumption site.”


Vancouver Coastal Health currently uses two drug-checking technologies: the FTIR Spectrometer and fentanyl test strips. The test strips detect the presence of fentanyl, including some fentanyl analogues like carfentanil. The strips are more widely available than the spectrometer, but don’t give the detailed chemical makeup of a substance. Both methods provide an opportunity to connect drug users to other services and supports, and ensure they have life-saving take home naloxone kits.


Benefits of drug checking

  • Increase awareness of fentanyl and other contaminants;
  • Encourage discussion about harm reduction;
  • Track the toxicity of the drug supply.

“The new spectrometers are another asset in our arsenal of education, overdose prevention and harm reduction tools,” says Coco Culbertson, senior manager, PHS Community Services Society. “We’re looking forward to reaching out to the broader community so that drug users across the region feel welcome to check their drugs. We’re optimistic that this tool will be informative to both drug consumers in the Downtown Eastside and the broader community of drug users.”

Vancouver Coastal Health is responsible for the delivery of $3.3 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola. VCH also provides specialized care and services for people throughout BC, and is the province’s hub of health care education and research.

Carrie Stefanson is the Public Affairs Leader at Vancouver Coastal Health.


Latest articles

Physician Assistants: A solution to Ontario’s primary care crisis

Primary care providers are the backbone of our healthcare system. For patients seeking medical...

Many health-care providers are ill-equipped to recognize pain in abused children

McGill study finds only 13 per cent of those surveyed received training on child...

Vaping additives harm a vital membrane in the lungs, according to new Concordia research

Vitamin E binds itself to the pulmonary surfactant, inhibiting gas exchange and lung stability The...

Report sees chance to create home care capacity by streamlining services

New report from UHN recommends residential high-rise buildings with a high proportion of older...

More like this

Understanding the environmental impact of hospital pharmacy supply chains

The pharmacy sector produces a range of environmental effects, encompassing greenhouse gas emissions, ecological...

Collaborating internationally to better protect patients from superbugs

Surrey Memorial Hospital is one of 12 hospitals around the globe involved in a...

New program tackles wait-list, brings surgeries closer to home

A new initiative brings day surgery closer to eastern Ontario families, supported by the...

Sounding the alarm for a sustainable Canadian cancer preparedness plan

Cancer remains the leading cause of death in Canada. An estimated two in five...

First Nations patients leave ED without completing treatment more than comparable non–First Nations patients

First Nations patients in Alberta leave emergency departments (EDs) without completing treatment more often...

Verspeeten Family Cancer Centre Unveiling Marks a Historic Milestone in Cancer Research and Treatment

London, Ontario: London Health Sciences Foundation (LHSF) is proud to announce the unveiling of...