Drug checking is a harm reduction service that offers people who use drugs (PWUD) a place to anonymously check their drugs and get a personalized, fact-based analysis about what is in their samples. The main goal of drug checking is to empower PWUD to make informed decisions about the substances they intend to use so they can use more safely. Drug checking also provides public health with timely information about what we are seeing in the drug supply in certain regions around the province.
History of Drug Checking in BC
Drug checking that was available to the public first started in BC in the late 1990s in the electronic dance music scene as an informal, peer-based service. Colorimetric reagent testing of “ecstasy” pills was used to test if MDMA was present in a pill. Initially, this service was met with a lot of resistance from local law enforcement. The BC Ministry of Health recognized the importance of drug checking as a harm reduction for PWUD in a policy document released in 2005. Since this time, drug checking has become increasingly recognized as a harm reduction tool that can empower people who use drugs with choice about how to use drugs more safely and technologies have advanced to provide more detailed information about drug samples brought in for testing.
BCCSU Drug Checking Project
In response to the overdose crisis declared in 2016, the BCCSU partnered with health authorities, local community organizations, and the government to expand the availability of drug checking services in BC. In 2017, the BCCSU received a research grant to implement and evaluate drug checking services that use a Fourier-Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometers in combination with immunoassay fentanyl test strips. This project is partnered with harm reduction organizations in Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health, Interior Health, and Island Health regions.
An evaluation of the drug checking project will be conducted to determine the community’s acceptance of the technologies being used, to learn more about who is accessing the services, to understand ways the service may be improved, and to record changes in drug use behaviour that might come from using drug checking services.