Sask. provides new drug checking devices for harm prevention sites in Saskatoon and Regina
Two harm reduction services, one in Saskatoon and one in Regina, have a new tool for checking the toxicity of drugs.
Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometers can identify what is in a drug and alert users of any contaminants.
The Saskatchewan government provided the devices to Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR) in Saskatoon and The Newo Yotina Friendship Centre in Regina. Both provide spaces where people can safely consume drugs in the presence of medical support, and now will also be able to test those drugs.
"People can bring in their substances and we take a tiny bit and it goes on to the machine, which is hooked up to a computer that has a database filled with thousands of substances, and it analyzes the substance and tells you what is in it," said Kayla Demong, executive director for Prairie Harm Reduction.
Demong said the machines will reduce the risk of drug poisoning, and provide users education and a better understanding of what is in the drugs they are taking.
"We're continuing to see ever-increasing numbers when it comes to drug poisoning here in the province and knowing that fentanyl continues to be integrated into all sorts of drug supply here, creating a risk for poisoning and death," she said.
Everything we're testing comes back positive for fentanyl at this point, including crystal meth. - Kayla Demong, Prairie Harm Reduction.
The drug checking devices arrived earlier this year. Getting the test is free and anonymous, and results are available within about 10 minutes.
Demong said the testing also allows staff to identify trends in contaminants showing up in drugs in the community.
"Everything we're testing comes back positive for fentanyl at this point, including crystal meth," she said.
She said PHR is currently providing testing services to people who access the safe consumption site, but hopes to offer the device to the larger community.
Once the drugs are tested, it's up to the individual whether to use them or not, regardless of what the results are.
"Someone brought in some substances and what came back in the test was that it was cement powder. There weren't actually any substances in it, so they were mad."
Emile Gariepy, the harm reduction manager at the Friendship Centre in Regina, said testing allows a user to know how strong or weak a substance is. If something is contaminated with fentanyl, knowing how strong it is can inform how much they should be taking to avoid an overdose.
The Friendship Centre in Regina is providing testing to people outside of the consumption site as well. Gariepy said people partying on the weekend can come to get their drugs tested to find out if they are contaminated.
"One of the people who are coming in to use the machine definitely thought it was a really cool thing to have in Saskatchewan," Gariepy said.
Gariepy said people don't need to be scared that they might get arrested, as the site provides anonymity.
Fentanyl and related drug deaths in Sask.
According to data from the coroner's office, a total of 186 people are believed to have died from drug toxicity in Saskatchewan from Jan. 1 to April 30. That includes 164 suspected drug toxicity deaths and 22 confirmed. Suspected deaths take some time to be cofirmed by autopsy.
The report says that the vast majority are due to fentanyl or related drugs.
In 2022, there were 404 total deaths in the province due to fentanyl and related drugs, according to the report.