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New device that tests drugs in minutes boosted by province amid B.C.’s overdose crisis

HarmCheck can provide accurate results in one to two minutes using only a small sample size
Vancouver Island University developed technology, HarmCheck utilizes a technology known as high-throughput paper spray mass spectrometry to provide rapid and accurate drug testing. (Vancouver Island University photo)

A new technology developed at Vancouver Island University is saving lives by providing rapid drug testing to reduce illicit drug poisonings in British Columbia.

The device, called HarmCheck, utilizes a technology known as high-throughput paper spray mass spectrometry to provide rapid testing to detect toxic drugs and help reduce illicit drug poisonings and overdoses.

HarmCheck can produce results in one to two minutes and only a small sample is required to deliver accurate results. The device can detect substances present in a sample, such as fentanyl, carfentanil, benzodiazepines and etizolam.

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The provincial government is providing $305,000 in funding to support setup costs, site upgrades and research staff to continue operating HarmCheck.

The initiative is a collaboration between Vancouver Island University and the Victoria-based Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project, which provides free and confidential drug-checking services in the city.

RELATED: Opioid crisis to blame for shorter life expectancy in B.C. men, says Stats Can

So far, almost 2,000 samples have been tested for people in Victoria using the device.

Vancouver Island University professor Chris Gill said in a statement that the life-saving technology will be “extremely effective” in measuring substances in illicit drugs amid an increasingly toxic drug supply.

“With this technology, we can let people know what substances are in their drugs and, more importantly, how much of certain substances are present. This has the potential to support and boost harm-reduction strategies and save lives.”

The B.C. Coroners Service counted 160 illicit drug toxicity deaths in May 2021, the last month for which data is available, and a total of 851 deaths so far in 2021. 2020 was B.C.’s deadliest year on record for illicit drug toxicity deaths with a total of 1,728.

READ ALSO: Researchers in Nanaimo competing to create life-saving drug-checking technology


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