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The Government of B.C. is providing $305,000 for HarmCheck, a drug-checking technology developed at Vancouver Island University.

The technology, called high-throughput paper spray mass spectrometry, provides rapid, sensitive testing as a harm-reduction measure to help reduce illicit drug poisonings.

“HarmCheck is cutting-edge technology developed right here in Nanaimo that has the power to reduce poisoned drug overdoses and save lives,” said Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “This technology allows for rapid and cost-effective drug-checking services that provide life-saving information. I am grateful to the team at Vancouver Island University and proud to support a homegrown solution that adds another tool in our response to the drug-poisoning crisis. The project announced today has the potential to be replicated in communities across the province.”

HarmCheck provides results in one to two minutes. It detects and quantifies substances present in a sample, such as fentanyl, carfentanil, benzodiazepines and etizolam. Only a tiny sample is needed to deliver highly sensitive and accurate results. Almost 2,000 samples have been tested for people in Victoria.

“I am grateful to the provincial government for recognizing the important role universities play in addressing serious societal challenges,” said Deborah Saucier, president and vice-chancellor, Vancouver Island University. “This technology has the potential to save lives and help address one of the most critical and devastating challenges we face – the overdose epidemic. This funding provides the opportunity to further this research and contribute to the health and safety of Island residents while doing so. I would like to thank the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions for taking tangible actions such as this to address and mitigate the harm this epidemic is causing to families across our province.”

Funding will support setup costs, site upgrades and research staff. The operation of HarmCheck is a collaboration between Vancouver Island University and the Victoria-based Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project. The project provides free and confidential drug-checking services at 1802 Cook St. in Victoria, in-person from noon to 7 p.m. daily. Drug-checking services connect people with health services and improve data on the poisoned drug supply.

“We are grateful to the Province for funding this life-saving technology that has been proven in the lab to be extremely effective in measuring substances in illicit drugs,” said Chris Gill, professor, Vancouver Island University. “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.”

Enhancing B.C.’s response to the overdose emergency is an integral part of A Pathway to Hope – B.C.’s roadmap for building the comprehensive system of mental health and addictions care British Columbians deserve.

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