Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Early Warning System : Avoiding Drug Overdoses

"What we're seeing right now, I think, are responses to overdoses after the overdose has happened. What I'm interested in is trying to prevent the overdoses before they happen."
"Our plan is to purchase advertising time on Facebook so we can get warnings out really quickly with a webpage."
"What's happening now is, because it's cheaper than heroin and cheaper than cocaine, it's being mixed with those drugs to make better profit for the drug dealers."
Lynne Leonard, assistant professor, research scientist, University of Ottawa

"People have been concerned about the quality of their drugs. These are interventions that we can put into place that would reduce a lot of those extreme risks and adverse health effects that we have been seeing and are seeing in greater numbers now."
Caleb Chepesiuk, harm reduction co-ordinator, AIDS Committee of Ottawa
drug diversion
Drug diversion is a growing concern within the medical field and healthcare settings are increasingly turning to spectrophotometry to detect abuses.
Image Source: Flickr user L. Andrew Bell
It's not an antidote like naloxone but it is a preventive device, or an alerting tool, one capable of detecting the presence of hidden substances proven to be lethal, that have become a huge problem throughout North America, in street drugs that users trust are the pure heroin or cocaine they think they have in their hands, unadulterated by fentanyl. The machine, called a spectrometer, has been in use in the United States, at musical festivals, among other venues.

And its use can save lives. Its use reveals the quality of the drug being tested, and whether or not that drug has been adulterated, cut with another drug, and usually the substance of concern is powerful fentanyl. What's worse is the concern that another drug in the fentanyl class, carfentanil, even more powerful than the deadly fentanyl, is about to enter the picture in Canada. These drugs, openly available on the Internet through Chinese exporters, are the source of innumerable overdose deaths in North America.

An application was submitted to the federal government to permit a supervised injection site in downtown Ottawa. At the same time, a research funding proposal has been submitted to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for the purpose of evaluating the efficacy of the technology used by the spectrometer. Depending on the type of results and the speed of results, a spectrometer's price tag ranges from $30,000 to $100,000.

This powerful drug-testing machine has the capability of revealing the strength and purity of opioids. At the present time, a kit is available for drug  testing whereby a drop of a solution on the drug in question exposes unknown substances, triggered by a change in colour. The AIDS committee offers the kits through a pilot project to test drugs such as cocaine, speed, MDMA and crystal meth. But it is of a limited value with opioids.

Oxycontin pills are also circulating, which contain fentanyl. And the hugely potent carfentanil, 10,000 greater in toxicity than morphine though not yet seen locally, is expected to surface: "I think it's only a matter of time", said Dr. Leonard.

Organizers of the Shambhala music festival have launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy a mass spectrometer for drug testing.
Organizers of the Shambhala music festival have launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy a mass spectrometer for drug testing. (CBC)

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