Drugs
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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

More Victorians are getting their drugs checked before using

The Island’s drug checking project tested 400% more samples over the holidays compared to last year

By Brishti Basu
January 9, 2023
Drugs
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

More Victorians are getting their drugs checked before using

The Island’s drug checking project tested 400% more samples over the holidays compared to last year

By Brishti Basu
Jan 9, 2023
The Substance UVic office on Cook Street, home of the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project. Photo: Emily Fagan / Capital Daily
The Substance UVic office on Cook Street, home of the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project. Photo: Emily Fagan / Capital Daily
Drugs
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

More Victorians are getting their drugs checked before using

The Island’s drug checking project tested 400% more samples over the holidays compared to last year

By Brishti Basu
January 9, 2023
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More Victorians are getting their drugs checked before using
The Substance UVic office on Cook Street, home of the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project. Photo: Emily Fagan / Capital Daily

More and more people have been taking the precaution of getting their drugs tested for contaminants in Victoria over the past year. 

During the holidays, between Dec. 19 and Jan. 2, the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project (Substance UVic) saw a nearly 400% increase in the number of people who checked the make-up of their drugs compared to the same period in 2021. 

Piotr Burek, who has been a research assistant at the project for four years, said the demand for drug testing has been consistently higher in 2022 than ever before. 

Part of this increase is because more communities have access to the service: Substance opened drug sample collection sites in Duncan, Comox Valley, Campbell River, and Port Alberni over the past year. 

But only a small percentage of drug samples comes from those new sites. Burek attributes the main source of demand to a growing awareness that drug checking services exist. 

“We still continue to have first- time service users,” he said. “We know that with a certain kind of population—specifically folks who are accessing festivals—there [were] a lot of first time service users this year over the summer so I think more and more people are just learning about drug checking.”

From talking to people who have accessed the service, Burek said testing is starting to become part of their regular drug use routines, and that many are getting substances checked for their entire friend group or circle.

This thirst for more information is reported amid an increasingly unpredictable drug supply that has killed 10,907 people in BC since the toxic drug crisis was declared a public health emergency in 2016. 

The main difference in drug samples over the holidays and the rest of the year is the type of substance being checked. 

“Party” or “club” drugs like cocaine and ketamine are checked more frequently in late December, but opioids still make up over half of all substances tested at the Cook Street site.

Substance UVic data shows fentanyl concentrations have ranged between 8.8% to over 80% in opioids tested at the facility over the past year. Party drugs are less volatile, according to Burek, but they are not always what they seem to be. 

“We do, every now and then, see either additional components in party drugs or misrepresentations of party drugs,” he said. “That can be quite common where, for example, someone is bringing a white powder that they think is ketamine and it actually turns out to be cocaine.”

Substance UVic has plans to further expand their ability to provide information about the drugs being sold. According to Bruce Wallace, co-lead of the project, the team has been talking about adding more drug checking sites, accepting more mail-in drug samples, and sharing results online as their next steps.

New grants of up to $1 million announced by Island Health last week to fund projects addressing the toxic drug crisis “matches the current objectives” of the drug checking project, Wallace said. 

Whether they apply or receive any of the funding remains to be seen, as the health authority is already aware of a Substance UVic project stuck in limbo.

This initiative, Wallace told Capital Daily last month, involves creating an open dashboard that would share details about the drug market on a weekly basis. Fentanyl concentrations and whether or not xylazine—a potent animal sedative that has been detected in drug samples in Victoria for over a year—is present in the street supply are examples of the data it would share.

The dashboard project has yet to receive funding from Island Health.

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