Industry News: Lifesaving new drug-checking equipment from Victoria Island University

An easier, safer, more advanced way of testing the toxicity of drugs will soon be more readily available

20 Oct 2023

HarmCheck technology has already tested nearly 2,000 samples in Victoria during weekly clinics

Sheila Malcolmson, Member of the Legislative Assembly and minister of mental health and addictions in Nanaimo, Canada, has announced $305,000 in provincial funding for HarmCheck, a developing technology that can quickly identify substances such as fentanyl and carfentanil in street drugs.

The mass spectrometry technology was developed by Dr. Chris Gill and his team at Applied Environmental Research Laboratories in Victoria Island University in Nanaimo and involves testing a tiny sample of a drug for known contaminants before a person uses them. 

“[The technology] not only identifies various types of fentanyl, benzodiazepines, and other toxins that are in drug supplies, but it does it quickly, does it sensitively, and provides information about how much,” Dr. Gill said. “This was a missing key component in early drug testing.”

The provincial funding will further solidify a pilot project in Victoria by covering set up costs, site upgrades, and staffing to help increase access to the technology on a more regular basis.

The HarmCheck technology has already tested nearly 2,000 samples in Victoria during clinics held once per week. Armin Saatchi, a graduate student who worked alongside Dr. Gill in the creation of the technology, said the work was immensely important to help users of street drugs.

“People can make informed decisions about how much, when, and with whom they use the substances. In the future, the idea is accountability and a demonstration of the inherent variability in an unregulated and unsafe supply.”

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