Patricia Bacon, executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions, says the organization is trying to prevent overdose deaths with a new drug-checking pilot program that launched on Aug. 31. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Blood Ties launches a new drug-testing program in Whitehorse

People can bring in pills, rocks or powder to see if they contain fentanyl

Overdose deaths are preventable, says Patricia Bacon, executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions. That’s what Blood Ties is trying to do with a new drug-checking pilot program that launched on Aug. 31 — International Overdose Awareness Day.

The program, similar to those already established in Vancouver, will operate during the same hours Blood Ties operates its needle exchange.

During those hours, people can bring in pills, rocks or powder to see if they contain fentanyl.

Bacon says the strips used in testing (which takes five to 10 minutes) are so sensitive that people can bring a piece of a rock of crack cocaine, or even just the bag the drugs came in.

What testing can’t do, she says, is check for non-fentanyl contamination or verify the quantity of fentanyl in a drug.

Bacon says Blood Ties started talking about the idea of a drug-checking program in the winter of 2017.

“The reason why we were talking about it is a couple reasons. One, we are unfortunately, in Canada and in the Yukon, still in the midst of an opioid overdose crisis,” she says.

Heather Jones, chief coroner for the Yukon, told the News there have been 10 confirmed fentanyl-related deaths in the territory since April 2016.

Bacon says the broad rollout of naloxone kits has been great, but that’s just one component of harm reduction. She says users of the needle exchange started asking for drug-checking, citing programs on Vancouver’s downtown east side. Those also began as pilots, in July 2016.

The outcome of those programs has been good, Bacon says. They don’t always encourage people not to use, but they can help people form safer habits. If people know there is fentanyl present, they may choose to use less of the drug. They may choose to use with friends, or with friends with a naloxone kit. Those who typically inject may choose to smoke instead, which is safer.

Bacon says it took a while to get the program up and running, but not because of funding.

The cost of operating it is negligible. The strips themselves aren’t expensive, and the program is being run at the same time as the needle exchange.

What did take time was getting an exemption from Health Canada. Bacon says there are strict guidelines around who can operate the program and where it can be done. Which makes sense, she says, when you’re dealing with vulnerable populations and highly toxic drugs.

She says Blood Ties also needed the endorsement of health minister Pauline Frost (Frost did not reply to request for comment). It also got the endorsement of the chief medical officer of health.

Since a soft launch in July, staff have been getting a handle on the program.

Bacon says Blood Ties is working to identify problems, which include the fact that occasional or recreational users sometimes don’t see themselves as users and don’t think to get drugs tested.

As well, she said those who use can develop a false sense of security that an overdose won’t happen to them. They trust that their dealers wouldn’t sell them bad drugs. The issue there is that those drugs are coming from elsewhere.

“And the drug supply everywhere in Canada is highly vulnerable.”

“Not everyone really realizes that in a visceral way.”

Over the next year, she says Blood Ties will be looking at uptake in the program, who’s using the service, how many positive test results they’re getting, and more. In the long run, she says it might make sense that the program is more widely available in the territory.

“People who use drugs have the right to not have to take their lives into their hands every single time they use. That’s what we want. We want people to be alive.”

Hours for the program (administered at Blood Ties at 405 Ogilvie St.) are Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Togo member Katie Moen sits in a sled behind a snowmobile for the ride from the airport to Chief Zzeh Gittlit School. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Coming together: How Old Crow became one of the first communities in the world to be fully vaccinated

Team Togo and Team Balto assembled with a mission to not waste a single dose of vaccine

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. If council moves forward with bylaw changes, eating and drinking establishments could set up pop-up patios in on-street parking spaces. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Patios may be popping up in Whitehorse this summer

City considers program for downtown restaurants and bars

The Yukon Coroner's Service has confirmed the death of a skateboarder found injured on Hamilton Boulevard on May 2. Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News
Whitehorse man dies in skateboarding accident

Coroner urges the use of helmets, protective gear, while skateboarding.

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s baby bison, born April 22, mingles with the herd on April 29. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Yukon Wildlife Preserves welcomes two bison calves

A bison calf was the first 2021 baby born at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

A map provided by the Yukon government shows the location of unpermitted logging leading to a $2,500 fine. (Courtesy/Yukon government)
Man fined $2,500 for felling trees near Beaver Creek

The incident was investigated by natural resource officers and brought to court.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Most Read