Pubdate: Sat, 10 Mar 2018
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2018 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Keith Gerein
Page: A3


Alberta's supervised consumption sites should be permitted to offer
drug testing to help users learn what dangers might be lurking in
their illicit narcotics, the province's opioid commission recommended

While questions persist about the effectiveness of fentanyl-sensing
strips and other testing devices, providing insight to users on what
they plan to inject or ingest will undoubtedly save lives, commission
leaders said.

"Anytime you can give people a bit more understanding than absolutely
none about what's in their drugs, I think that's a positive," Elaine
Hyshka, co-chair of the Minister's Opioid Emergency Response
Commission, told a news conference downtown.

Six supervised consumption sites have been approved for Alberta.
Facilities in Calgary and Lethbridge have already opened, while four
sites in Edmonton are expected to open within weeks.

The province's latest report on the opioid crisis showed at least 562
Albertans died last year due to a fentanyl-related overdose.

The report also showed fentanyl is increasingly showing up in
combination with other types of drugs, including methamphetamine and
heroin. In many cases, users are unaware their drugs may contain
lethal amounts of the illicit opioid.

Hyshka said fentanyl test strips have been used in both Ontario and
B.C. In its first year of piloting the strips, 80 per cent of the
drugs tested at Vancouver's Insite were found to contain fentanyl.

Insite clients who received a positive result were 10 times more
likely to reduce their dose. And those who cut down their intake were
25-percent more likely to avoid an overdose, the facility reported.

Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal Health,
acknowledged the strips are not entirely fail-safe. There have been
some cases of false negatives, and questions remain about how
effective they are at detecting fentanyl analogs such as

More recently, the Vancouver health authority has been piloting a
$50,000 infra-red spectrometer. Lysyshyn said the device is good at
detecting a range of substances including heroin, cocaine and crystal
meth. However, it is less effective at detecting substances in very
small quantities such as fentanyl.

It's unclear when testing tools might be introduced to Alberta, though
Hyshka said she hopes it's as soon as possible.

The commission unveiled 14 new recommendations Friday, all of which
were accepted by Alberta Health. Included was a proposal for overdose
prevention sites.

Such sites are similar to supervised consumption sites in that they
provide medical care for drug users, but they tend to be more
temporary and do not offer the same wraparound services.

The province's first overdose prevention site opened Friday on Kainai
First Nation in southern Alberta, which declared a state of emergency
after a spike in overdoses. The site is operating out of an Atco
trailer eight hours each day.

Hyshka said such sites could also be used at summer festivals or other
events where widespread drug use is expected.
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