Drug-checking service to become permanent in South Okanagan | News
A program that offers free illicit drug analysis is set to become a staple in the southern Okanagan.
Interior Health this month issued a call for expressions of interest from groups or businesses interested in offering the drug-checking service in Penticton beginning this spring. A similar bidding process also takes place in Vernon.
The winning bidder is expected to operate the service using Fourier transform infrared spectrometers that can analyze the chemical composition of substances within minutes.
Customers then receive a report of what’s actually in their medication and can adjust their use accordingly – information that could save lives amid the ongoing opioid crisis.
The service, which is part of the larger harm reduction philosophy, has been operating in the region for the last year under a temporary deal with ASK Wellness.
“IH continues to prioritize drug control services as an important part of the overall response to the toxic drug crisis, and we are pleased that this service will now have permanent funding in the Penticton area,” the organization said in a statement Friday.
“The call for expressions of interest is a step we take as part of normal open procurement when we set up a new permanent service.”
The successful bidder is expected to provide specially trained staff and offer both a store location and remote drop off locations, as well as confirming their willingness to eventually expand the service to Osoyoos and Princeton. Contract value is capped at $50,000.
According to the latest publicly available information, as of October there were 27 drug checkpoints across the province funded by the BC Center on Substance Use.
A total of 2,177 controls were conducted and revealed the presence of benzodiazepines – a type of tranquilizer – in 37% of samples presumed to be opioids. That led to six different warnings in October alone.
“When purchasing fentanyl from an unregulated drug supply, it is often impossible to know the fentanyl concentration of the drug,” states BCSU’s October Bulletin.
“Drug testing can be helpful, but point-of-care quantification results are provided in an area because it is difficult to be accurate with available technologies. For example, a technician might say, ‘This sample contains caffeine, mannitol, and between 5% and 10% fentanyl.’”
At least 158 people died from illicit drug overdoses in the Okanagan region in the first nine months of 2022, according to the BC Coroner Service, not far from the dismal record of 174 set in 2021.