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

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read