VANCOUVER — British Columbia is going to test a new drug-checking service in Vancouver to determine if it will help cut the soaring number of overdose deaths in the province.
The study began last week in a partnership between the city and the BC Centre on Substance Use using a portable machine at two supervised consumption sites.
The machines are being used along with fentanyl test strips to look for contaminants in the drug supply.
The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions is also expanding the use of fentanyl test strips in all supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites.
The death toll from illicit drug overdoses reached 1,103 for the first nine months of this year.
In 2016, 982 people fatally overdosed in British Columbia.
The opioid fentanyl was detected in about 83 per cent of the deaths, representing a 147 per cent increase over the same period last year, the coroner's service said this week. In most cases, the powerful painkiller was combined with other drugs, including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
"With dangerous drugs like fentanyl contaminating the majority of street drugs, giving people information on what's in the substances they are using can help them make informed decisions about whether or how much they consume — and could save lives," Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said in a statement on Friday.
"Our research into drug checking will help us answer key questions about how effective and reliable these technologies could be in reducing the devastating number of people dying across the province from overdoses."
Two other health authorities in the Fraser Valley and the Interior recently introduced fentanyl test strips at some of overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites.
The government says there is a pilot project to send more of the test strips to the remaining sites across the province in the coming weeks.
Safe consumption sites have opened around the province for addicts and the coroners' service said there have been no deaths at those locations.
Ninety per cent of the deaths this year happened indoors, and half of those were in private homes, the service said.
Three-quarters of those who died were between the ages of 30 and 59, and four out of five of them are male.
The Fraser Health Authority, which covers Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods from Burnaby to Hope on the east side of the Fraser Valley, had the most deaths this year at 295, followed by Vancouver at 269.
In 2012, fentanyl was detected in just four per cent of overdose deaths.