SASKATOON — Prairie Harm Reduction has welcomed the use of testing strips that would detect fentanyl and benzodiazepine in one’s system as another way of preventing the harmful effects of drug overdose in the city. The provincial government made it possible for the strips to be available in safe consumption sites and their staff trained on how to use them.
PHR operates the first safe consumption site in Saskatoon and their service, observed by a primary care paramedic, helps prevent the harmful effects of using drugs that have fentanyl and benzodiazepine, substances in street drugs that are linked to opioid-related deaths in the province.
There have been 73 confirmed deaths linked to opioids in Saskatchewan in 2021 and 48 (66 percent) involved fentanyl.
PHR executive director Jason Mercredi, in a statement, said they are pleased to have this service available in the city, calling the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health’s move a part of their combined efforts in the fight against overdose-related deaths.
"Drug testing allows us to notify the community in real time of tainted street drugs."
Mercredi, in a separate interview, added having the testing kits available is one of the ways a collaborative effort by organizations like them and the SHA can help curb drug use.
“Naloxone kits are distributed throughout the city. We operate our Safe Consumption Site, which now includes drug testing, and the SHA has opioid replacement therapy available.”
PHR staff that undergo training on how to use the testing kits administer the test to those who use the facility at their safe consumption site. The testing kits are not set up to be handed out to people who use drugs.
Mercredi said fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is often found in prescription pain medication, has trickled down into the streets and may have contributed to overdose-related deaths in the province.
“Fentanyl is cut into street drugs in an effort to get people more addicted to street drugs as it is highly addictive.”
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid used in pain medication and anesthesia. It has been used as a recreational drug that is often times combined with cocaine, heroin, or crystal meth (methamphetamine) for an extra high.
Fentanyl is considered 100 times more lethal than other opioids and users most of the time have no idea if it is present inwhat they are consuming, especially if it is a street drug. Fentanyl cannot be seen, it has no odor, and it can’t be tasted.
The test strips provided by the province’s health ministry, which has invested $458 million for addiction and mental health services in 2021 to 2022, can detect fentanyl or benzo in street drugs . However, a negative result is no guarantee that the substance consumed was safe since it only determines if the drug consumed has fentanyl or benzo and it also does not say its amount in the substance.
Mercredi said PHR also has support workers on their site to help in case management and referrals, naloxone training, mental health service, family support and employment opportunities as well as their other programs to help people with addiction and mental health problems.