REGINA - The Government of Saskatchewan is expanding access to fentanyl and benzodiazepine drug checking strips, to help curb the number of overdose deaths in our province. These test strips are now available to the general public for the purpose of at-home drug checking.
In North Battleford the test strips are available at SHA Battlefords Sexual Health Clinic, 1192 101st Street, North Battleford, SK, S9A 0Z6. The phone number is 306-446-6463.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more toxic than other opioids. Of 149 confirmed accidental drug toxicity deaths in Saskatchewan in 2021, 108 (72 per cent) involved fentanyl. People who use drugs often do not know if fentanyl is present. It cannot be seen, smelled or tasted.
Mixing benzodiazepines (benzos) with opioids increases the risk of overdose, because they both have sedative properties. As well, naloxone, which normally reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, is not effective in counteracting benzos.
"The tragedy of overdose and toxic street drug deaths continue to be a heavy burden on our communities," Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley said. "Our government remains committed to expanding addictions services, and providing widespread access to drug checking strips is one way to save lives."
Take-home test strips are now available at over 30 locations across the province. To find the closest location for pick-up, the public can visit saskatchewan.ca/overdose.
"We are grateful anytime we see the adoption of evidence-based harm reduction measures on a large scale," Provincial Lead of Mom's Stop the Harm Canada Marie Agioritis said, "It gives me hope that someone else's mother could be spared the pain of burying a child. These test strips will save lives. Let's get them into the hands of people who need them."
"This is a major step to help reduce the risk of overdoses throughout Saskatchewan," Prairie Harm Reduction Executive Director Jason Mercredi said. "Prairie Harm Reduction is pleased to be a partner with the Government of Saskatchewan to ensure this harm reduction tool is widely available to everyone in Saskatchewan, both urban and rural."
A negative result on a test strip does not guarantee the substance is safe. Test strips only check if certain fentanyl or benzos compounds are present in the portion of the drugs tested. They do not detect other drugs and do not show the amount of fentanyl or benzos present in the substance. These strips are an additional tool to limit potential overdoses.
The Ministry of Health asks all those using street drugs to not use alone. Use the buddy system or call the National Overdose Response Service at 1-888-688-6677. Naloxone kits to reverse opioid overdoses are available throughout the province. Visit saskatchewan.ca/opioids for more information.
In the event of an overdose, call 911. Under the Good Samaritan Act, you will not be charged for possession of an illegal substance if you are calling for assistance during an overdose.
The Ministry of Health is investing a record $458 million for mental health and addictions services in 2021-22, an increase of $23.4 million over last year's budget. Of that investment, $2.6 million is specifically for harm reduction initiatives across the province, an increase of $1.4 million from last year. Test strips for drug checking is one of several new harm reduction initiatives being funded this year.