Drug users are being urged to test their drugs before taking them with fentanyl test strips that are being provided by Island Health. (Submitted)

Drug users are being urged to test their drugs before taking them with fentanyl test strips that are being provided by Island Health. (Submitted)

Fentanyl test strips coming to overdose prevention sites, including Cowichan

Take precautions when using drugs and look out for one another during the holiday season.

Fentanyl test strips are now available at Island Health’s supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites, allowing people to test drugs before they are consumed.

Sites in Victoria, the city with the third-highest number of overdose deaths in B.C. this year, are the first locations on Vancouver Island to receive the strips.

Overdose prevention sites in Duncan, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Courtenay and Campbell River will have strips by the end of December. The strips are free to people checking drugs while at an overdose prevention or supervised consumption site.

“It isn’t a perfect method for detecting contaminants and a risk still exists regardless of the results, which is why we are making them available at supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites,” said Dr. Murray Fyfe, Medical Health Officer, Island Health. “We hope that drug checking will become part of a routine for people using drugs at these sites to do so more safely — combining drug checking with proven existing harm reduction practices should help save lives.”

Recommended harm reduction practices include using with a friend who is not also using at the same time, starting with a lower dose, and having a naloxone kit handy.

In addition to supervised consumption and overdose prevention services, other Island Health supports for people who use illicit drugs include opioid agonist treatments such as methadone and Suboxone along with peer support, mental health services and sobering, stabilizing, treatment and recovery beds.

Although the holidays are often a time of joy, it can also be difficult and lonely. Island Health would like to remind people to take precautions when using drugs and look out for one another during the holiday season. During the winter holidays in 2016, there was a marked increase in overdose deaths in B.C., a sign of the impending opioid crisis.

Since that time, overdose rates have continued to increase at an alarming rate. Between January and October, 1,208 people died of drug overdoses in B.C. in 2017, 198 from our Island communities.