Now people can check their drugs at any of Vancouver's four overdose prevention sites.

Vancouver Coastal Health is expanding its pilot project to offer more locations for people to test their drugs for fentanyl, the potent opioid contaminating street drugs across B.C. that's responsible for hundreds of overdose deaths in the province.

The free drug checking service has been available at Insite, Canada's first supervised injection clinic, since July 2016. Anyone can bring in their drugs and ask staff members at Insite to test them.

The test uses a strip originally designed for urinalysis that's dipped into a solution of a client's drug and water. If fentanyl is detected, a single line appears on the strip. If not, a double line appears instead. 

"The overdose crisis is still happening, so it makes sense to offer the tests in more places," said Tiffany Akins, spokesperson for VCH. "Some people who are taking the test are reducing their dose or throwing out the substance completely if they get a positive."

According to VCH, knowing that one's drugs are contaminated with fentanyl can persuade a person to consume them more safely. At Insite, clients whose drugs tested positive for fentanyl were 10 times more likely to reduce their dose. Those who reduced their does were 25 per cent less likely to overdose.

Akins wanted to stress that testing drugs is very fast, and doing the test doesn't require giving up much of the drug.

"When I saw a test at Insite for the first time I couldn't even see the drug being tested… it takes such a small amount," she said. "People don't want to give up their drugs. Some of them had to work very hard for it."

At this time, tests must be done at either Insite, Powell Street Getaway supervised injection service or one of Vancouver's four overdose prevention sites as indicated on the map below.

Drug testing locations

Akins says VCH doesn't sell or give away test strips for people to use at home. But she says people who want to do home tests can buy the strips from the supplier, Ontario-based BTNX

Warning people about contaminated drugs

Based on the past year of testing drugs for fentanyl at Insite, VCH has found that 80 per cent of drugs checked there were positive for fentanyl. The deadly opioid was more prevalent its milder opioid cousin heroin, but was still found in 65 per cent of non-opioid drugs like crystal meth, MDMA/ecstasy and cocaine.

VCH will be posting results of their tests at the overdose prevention sites indicating what percentage of the drugs tested at each location were contaminated.

This year, the health provider also launched a research project called the Real-time Drug Alert and Response, or RADAR, that people can use to report drug overdoses and receive text notifications about tainted drugs.

People at VCH monitor the number and types of reports of overdoses that get texted in to the service, and if they see a dangerous trend that signifies there's a bad batch of drugs, they sound out an alert to people who subscribe to their SMS warning service.