REGINA — Saskatchewan is providing test strips that can check drugs for toxic substances at overdose prevention sites in Regina and Saskatoon.
The strips identify the presence of fentanyl and benzodiazepine in street drugs. Fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more toxic than other opioids, cannot be detected by sight, smell or taste.
"We keep having record years for overdoses," Jason Mercredi, executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction in Saskatoon, said Tuesday.
"Year over year since 2016, overdoses have been increasing, and primarily the spots that have been hit are Saskatoon and Regina.
"We need to get best practices in place, and drug testing is a part of that suite of services."
The test strips only detect the presence of fentanyl or benzodiazepine — not their potency — and do not screen for every contaminant.
But Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health says the two substances have been closely linked to the increasing number of people dying by overdose in the province. The Ministry says 66 per cent of confirmed overdose deaths in Saskatchewan so far this year involved fentanyl.
"We have seen the devastating impact that fentanyl has had on so many Saskatchewan families and communities," Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley said in a news release.
"Providing access to these test strips is one of the many harm reduction strategies our government is using to expand addictions services and reverse the rising number of overdose deaths in our province."
The test strips will be available to clients at Prairie Harm Reduction and the Newo-Yotina Friendship Centre in Regina.
Mercredi said using the test strips will also allow his organization to notify the community about tainted street drugs in real time.
"Street drugs are incredibly toxic and laced with all sorts of substances," he said. "These strips will allow us to test for fentanyl and benzodiazepine — so, not a full suite of drugs, but they’re the two major ones that are causing overdoses."
People can bring their drugs to the two centres, where staff have been trained to perform the tests.
"Based off the results, we can then educate the person who is using the drugs on safer drug use practice or, if they want to, they can even dispose of the drug," said Mercredi.
"We're just making sure they're informed while they're using."
Mercredi said this knowledge will help people make informed choices about their own safety.
"It's definitely going to help us save people's lives and it's going to allow us to intervene before people die, which is a huge step."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2021.
Julia Peterson, The Canadian Press