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Island Health says enhanced drug-checking service has expanded to North Island

A new Fourier-Transform InfraRed (FTIR) spectrometer is now in place in Port Hardy
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Port Hardy Outreach Worker Lori Meers shows the spectrometer. (Island Health photo)

Island Health says that people who use unregulated substances in the Port Hardy area will now have access to free local drug-checking services to help reduce unregulated drug overdoses and save lives.

The organization stated via news release that a new Fourier-Transform InfraRed (FTIR) spectrometer is now in place at the Mental Health and Substance Use (MHSU) office in Port Hardy to check substances for adulterants, providing the region with an evidence-informed harm reduction tool that allows people to know what’s in their drugs.

“Keeping people alive is our first priority,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, in the release. “New drug-checking services in Port Hardy are already providing people with important information so they can reduce their risks and offers an opportunity to connect people to life saving supports and health resources.”

During business hours people can attend the Port Hardy MHSU office and have a sample of their substance checked and receive results within 20 minutes. After business hours, people can drop off samples via a secure mail slot and receive results the next business day via an anonymous online portal.

“With hundreds of people dying every year across our Island Health region in this unrelenting crisis, this is a critical time to ensure harm reduction tools are accessible to everyone,” stated Leah Hollins, Island Health Board Chair. “This is the first enhanced drug checking service within the area of Mount Waddington Regional District and as part of Island Health’s priorities to increasing access to life-saving services, it demonstrates our commitment to providing more equitable overdose response.”

Alexa Bisaillon, the Team Lead of Outreach Services in the area, said this new healthcare service is needed.

“I am so excited to offer this in-office to my family, friends and clients who use drugs. The FTIR spectrometer is going to help us save lives. We have seen more overdoses here over the past year and it’s not slowing down. Not only will care providers be able to help increase access to more relevant and drug-specific harm reduction supplies, but community members will be empowered with knowledge they can share with loved ones that also might be using the same supply.”

Samples will also be analyzed by a mass spectrometer on a weekly basis in Victoria to provide more comprehensive results, detecting whether fentanyl/and or fentanyl analogues or benzodiazepines are present in smaller amounts than can be detected by FTIR. These results can also be accessed by clients via the online portal within three to seven days. The aggregate data is also used to inform drug toxicity alerts.

“Testing substances can provide life-saving information about any possible harmful and even deadly adulterants that drugs may contain,” said Dr. Charmaine Enns, Medical Health Officer, Island Health. “At the same time, this service creates low threshold opportunities for individuals to connect to other harm reduction services, including substance use treatment programs.”

Port Hardy Mayor Pat Corbett-Labatt added she hopes this “anonymous, quick but safe way to test drugs will help to diminish overdoses and spare countless families anguish, silence paramedic sirens, minimize emergency department admissions, and cut down on hospital stays.”

“It is very encouraging to know this technology and opportunity will be available to those who are at risk due to contaminated supply,” said Andrew Hory, Chair for the Regional District of Mount Waddington. “In addition to decreasing negative outcomes as users can check for safety and consequence without stigma, it will also engender more trust in the systems of care. This is a very positive step.”

The new drug-checking service is open Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Port Hardy Mental Health and Substance Use is located at 7070 Shorncliffe Avenue.

Island Health says it offers a diverse set of safe, respectful health-care locations and programs for people seeking support to manage their substance use. Services offered include harm reduction strategies like drug-checking, prevention and early intervention, supervised consumption, counselling, medications to help treat substance use disorder, and detox and treatment beds. Programs and resources are now easier to locate through the implementation of the single toll-free Service Link phone line, 1-888-885-8824, providing information and help navigating substance use, harm reduction, and mental health resource options across Island Health.