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Vancouver Islanders can now have opioids, other drugs lab-checked by mail

UVic-led drug checking project provides anonymous online results within a day of receiving sample
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A new mail-in program initiated by the University of Victoria allows Vancouver Island drug users in centres without drug-testing facilities to send in samples to be rapid-tested for toxic substances. (Photo courtesy Vancouver Island University)

The Island’s first mail-in drug checking model has been launched by a group staffed by the University of Victoria, in an effort to provide communities without local facilities with potentially life-saving overdose prevention measures.

Those who have drugs they’d like tested for toxic substances can complete the new process by accessing substance.uvic.ca. Once there, users print and follow instructions for labelling and packaging before mailing to the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project’s indicated facility on Cook Street in Victoria.

The online instructions include a personalized nine-digit code used to access and track the results of the user’s drug check, which can be determined within 15 minutes of receiving the package and is typically posted online the same day, said programmer Bruce Wallace.

The mail-in system, launched Dec. 1 in partnership with UVic, Vancouver Island University, Island Health and Solid Outreach, operates similarly to Vancouver’s Check Your Drugs program.

Using equipment such as the paper spray mass spectrometer, Wallace and his colleagues can determine the main active ingredients and unwanted contaminants in a drug sample as small as a grain of rice, accuracy impossible using portable drug checking equipment, he said.

READ ALSO: ‘Naloxone on site’: Victoria businesses doing their part for harm reduction

“It’s quite inequitable access if you have to live in a city to be able to access drug checking facilities,” said Wallace, a professor with UVic’s School of Social Work and researcher with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research. “Our goal with this is providing more access to people throughout Vancouver Island.”

According to the First Nations Health Authority, 254 Indigenous people – many of whom lived in remote communities without access to drug-checking equipment – died from toxic drug use in B.C. in 2020, more than double the 2019 total of 116.

The Island Health region saw 239 deaths due to drug toxicity in the first seven months of 2021, according to the B.C. Coroners Service – B.C. saw a record 1,534 deaths in that time. Highly potent chemicals fentanyl and benzodiazepine were detected in 90 and 39 per cent, respectively, of Island Health’s reported deaths.

READ ALSO: New drugs, COVID measures feeding record-breaking Victoria overdose pace: expert

The Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project mail-in system is legal under provincial overdose prevention law and completely safe to mail processors and carriers, Wallace said.

“People are not overdosing (in record numbers) from handling fentanyl. That’s from consuming (undetected) fentanyl,” he said.


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