Take-home fentanyl test strips work nearly as well as getting tested on-site: B.C. study

Take-home fentanyl test strips work and they appear to be just as successful as getting drugs tested on-site. Ashley Burr has how the findings of a B.C. study could save lives.

A study that showcases the effectiveness of take-home fentanyl test strips will have a significant impact on the number of British Columbians who overdose alone in their homes, an advocate says.

For three months in 2019, researchers compared fentanyl detection rates using take-home test strips with those tested by trained staff at harm reduction sites. Among 1,768 opioid drug samples tested, the positivity rates of the take-home strips and those examined by trained staff were both about 90 per cent.

The study was conducted by Vancouver Coastal Health, the BC Centre on Substance Use, the BC Centre for Disease Control, Interior Health and the First Nations Health Authority.

The primary takeaway from their research was that “when people are testing opioid samples, they can rely on the information as being as accurate as they would get if trained personnel did it on site,” says Dr. Sukhpreet Klaire, the study’s lead author and associate director with the BCCSU. “So if they don’t like the accessibility of going on-site, this may expand who is using these services.”

In B.C., 80 per cent of people dying of a drug overdose die alone and over 50 per cent of those are in private residences, harm reduction advocate Guy Felicella tells CityNews.

“It’s a lot closer than you think. It’s next door,” he says. “Those are in private residences. That’s just a house like yours or mine.”

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Felicella says these test kits are literal life savers, but in B.C.’s rural communities, resources can be limited.

Klaire agrees, saying a person’s location plays a major role in the variety of services they can use. But he says there is a push across all health authorities to include take-home tests as part of harm reduction initiatives.

Felicella emphasizes the necessity for organizations and groups to communicate with the public about where kits like these can be found. He adds the stigma of asking for a kit is also a major factor preventing many from seeking them out.

“In the downtown core, you can walk into VANDU, supervised consumptions site, OPS, you can talk to an outreach worker,” he says. “You can get them easily in Vancouver, but not in rural communities. If one place has it, they probably don’t advertise they have it either.”

Klaire hopes the study will provide policymakers and the public with more understanding of the value of take-home fentanyl test strips.

“We are seeing that the drug supply, particularly the opioid supply, doesn’t just contain fentanyl and carfentanyl and other strong opioids but also contains benzodiazepines, sedatives, and tranquillizers. So it’s really a sort of shifting target. And we’ve seen the last few years of the drug supply is extremely toxic, extremely variable and can change on a whim,” he says.

“This is one piece of harm reduction that gives people information and can potentially keep them safe. But ultimately, all these things are just targeting a drug supply that is really hard to pin down.”

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