ASK Wellness Centre plans to start expanding its drug-testing program this year.
The agency has one of five Fourier transform infrared spectrometers (FTIR), machines that can identify substances in drugs, “and we need to promote this service,” executive director Bob Hughes said.
“Enforcement is not working.”
Plans are to use online social media to arrange meetings in private, safe places, for people to have their drugs tested, he said.
The decision comes after ASK staff started to realize they were seeing people “from a different socio-economic community" coming to them on Thursday and Friday nights asking for a naloxone kit and the training required to use it.
Naloxone is used in harm-reduction to temporarily stop an opioid overdose, usually in enough time for first responders to arrive and start medical care.
“These are people who are using cocaine, MDMA (Methyl enedioxy methamphetamine, also known as Molly or Ecstasy). That’s who we have to connect with.”
The agency is sending the FTIR to the Shambala Music Festival to be used there when its annual series of concerts starts on Friday. ASK employee Kira Haug will be on site with it, Hughes said.
Shambala has been doing drug testing for years. Last year, Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema and Ankors, the company that makes the equipment, found fentanyl in more than two dozen drugs of the 2,724 drugs tested at the site near Salmo.
The year before, nine were found.
That’s not the only toxic substance being identified through the machine, Hughes said. He cited an instance before ASK obtained an FTIR when another organization did a drug test for a man and identified paraben, another harmful drug.
Hughes said the man came back after getting the results and asked to safely dispose of the drugs. He had brought them to the event to sell “but he said he just wanted to get rid of it.”
Dr. Ken Tupper of the B.C. Centre on Substance Use is one of four researchers who have recently published results of a pilot project to detect fentanyl in drugs in downtown Vancouver.
Drug-checking methods were implemented at two locations in Vancouver between November 2017 and April 2018. The study tested 1,714 samples and only 19 per cent had the expected drug in any amount. Eighty-eight per cent tested positive for fentanyl.
There were 822 drug samples purported to be heroin also tested but only 13 per cent contained that drug.
A majority of the drugs that were believed to be a stimulant like methamphetamine had the expected drug in any amount; only five per cent showed fentanyl in the test results.
Those FTIR tests done in the pilot project also found other unexpected and potentially dangerous substances in many of the drugs tested.