Monday, November 14, 2022

We Need a New Approach: Unregulated Drug Poisoning, Pharmacies, and Drug Checking

Death caused by using unregulated and illicit drugs is still high in BC and the Fraser Health service area, including Langley City, though it has been trending down recently.

One of the challenges with unregulated drugs is that you never know what you get. Samples analyzed by the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project found that while most samples contained what they said they were, up to 20% were mixed with other substances with concentrations all over the place. For example, drugs laced with fentanyl had a median concentration of 9.7% in the samples tested, but some samples had 0.1%, and others had 80% plus.

One way to help people is to expand access to rapid drug testing in a way that reduces stigma.

One of the ways to reduce stigma is to integrate testing into places and services that people always use. For example, going to the doctor, then going to the blood lab for a STI test has less stigma associated with it than going to a specific STI clinic. Everybody goes to the doctor and the blood lab.

The same should be with drug testing.

Right now, there are only two places to get drug tested in Langley City and Township, and both locations are within a 2 minutes walk of each other in Downtown Langley. The only location with regular hours is the Fraser Health - Public Health Building, which operates weekdays from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.

The Fraser Health Public Health Building certainly isn’t a place that most people would go to, even if they could make it between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm. While Downtown Langley may have some testing services, people in Aldergrove, Brookswood, Walnut Grove, and Willoughby are certainly not going to travel out of their way for drug testing.

How can we expand drug testing access and reduce the stigma associated with testing? Pharmacies.

A sign for a pharmacy

People go to pharmacies for various reasons, and accessing a pharmacy in BC is easy.

Pharmacies already help people with unregulated drug treatments, including Opioid Agonist Treatment. Pharmacies also know how to help with public health emergencies.

Pharmacies in BC could provide Take-Home Fentanyl Test Strips, including giving people consultation on how to use the test strips.

As long as there are unregulated drugs, people will overdose and tragically die. We need to expand access to testing services in a low-barrier, stigma-free environment. For me, this means looking at places where people already go to access health services. If pharmacies can help with COVID-19 testing, they can certainly help with unregulated drug testing.

I should point out that the opinions in the post are mine and don’t necessarily represent the views of Council or Langley City.

No comments: