Overdose rates from toxic drug supplies in Terrace and area have climbed to the point that the health authority has brought in a specialized device so that users can have their drugs tested prior to using them.
A new drug-checking machine now in Terrace will help people who use drugs make “informed choices” and potentially save lives, the Northern Health Authority announced June 27.
Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins told The Terrace Standard that placement of the technology is directly related to and has been decided based on overdose burden in the community.
“As we know, the Northwest (and the Northern Interior) have tragically been leading in terms of rates of fatal overdoses in 2021-2022.”
To the end of April, the B.C. Coroners Service states the Northern Health Authority had the highest rate at 58 deaths per 100,000 individuals of all health authorities in B.C.
The Northwest Health Service Delivery Area, which includes Terrace, Prince Rupert and Kitimat, was among the top five areas for death rates in the province.
At a cost of $50,000, the Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) machine allows a technician to check what’s in a drug. The machine can test a range of substances, including opioids, stimulants, and other psychoactive drugs such as MDMA.
Collins said the employee’s job “is to interpret the information provided by the FTIR and relay both results and harm reduction messaging associated with those results to the service user.”
B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson said drug checking technology has the power to reduce poisoned drug deaths and save lives.
“I am grateful that this rapid and cost-effective drug-checking machine is coming to Terrace as an additional tool in our response to the drug-poisoning crisis.”
Clare Hart, Northern Health’s northwest director of specialized services said the machine will help drug-users, caregivers and communities to develop plans for substance use that are centred in safety and harm reduction philosophy.
The FTIR analyzes drug samples by shining a light on it and measuring how that light is absorbed. The analysis can tell what is in the sample, including what the primary components of the substance are and also if there are any adulterants. The technician may be able to provide an estimate of concentration levels of a substance.
Northern Health said sample analysis can then help improve the timeliness and accuracy of toxic drug alerts issued to communities and to create broader awareness around specific substances that are flagged.
On June 24, Northern Health issued a warning to drug users in Terrace of a substance for sale called “down” described as purple power or pebbles.
“The substance is highly toxic and contains benzodiazepines and high levels of fentanyl,” said Northern Health.
The machine is located at Northern Health’s Intensive Case Management Team northwestern B.C. headquarters on Greig Ave., the same location where drug-users can inject or inhale drugs, pick up drug use paraphernalia and Naloxone kits in case of an overdose. A second FTIR machine is about to go into service in Prince George.
For more information on drug checking, see drugcheckingbc.ca. For information and resources on overdose prevention in the Northern Health region, see northernhealth.ca/health-topics/overdose-prevention.
This report was updated on June 29, 2022 with more information from the Northern Health Authority
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