Health Minister highlights research and innovation projects that help address the opioid crisis
Health Minister visits University of Victoria researchers to learn about progress of drug-checking project
April 23, 2019
The opioid crisis is a tragic public health issue that is devastating the lives of tens of thousands of Canadians, families, and communities across the country. The latest data show that since 2016 more than 10,300 Canadians have died as a result of apparent opioid-related overdoses. Fentanyl and other potent substances continue to be behind the majority of these overdose deaths, accounting for 73% of accidental apparent opioid-related deaths between January and September 2018.
Today, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health, met with researchers from the University of Victoria who are leading an innovative project to develop drug-checking technology with the aim of reducing the death toll from the overdose epidemic. This project is made possible through federal funding from Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions program. The researchers received approximately $1.7 million over three years to evaluate and integrate an array of drug-checking technologies into the services offered at supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites.
The University of Victoria researchers are gathering data on the drugs brought into supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention. They are also developing an online database with information about the drugs checked, as well as the experiences and perceptions of people who use these drugs. This tool will help to inform trends in the composition of illegal drugs and provide information to better protect people who use drugs.
As part of the Government of Canada’s actions to increase knowledge and develop technology in the area of drug checking, Health Canada has authorized drug-checking services at supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites. Health Canada also launched the Drug-Checking Technology Challenge, which encourages industry to accelerate innovation in this area and to develop tools to allow people who use drugs and those who support them to make informed decisions based on the composition of a drug. As part of the Challenge, nine semi-finalists were recently selected and will each receive $25,000 to develop prototypes.
“This crisis continues to be one of the most serious public health issues in Canada’s recent history. It is a medical issue, not a moral one. We know the vast majority of deaths occurred because of substances that were tainted with fentanyl. This is why we will continue to do all we can to save lives by investing in research and technologies that help people who use drugs know what’s really in them.”
The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor
Minister of Health
The Substance Use and Addictions Program provides approximately $50 million annually to support initiatives to prevent, treat and reduce all forms of harm from the problematic use of substances, including opioids, cannabis, alcohol and tobacco.
Drug checking is a harm reduction measure whereby people can have drugs tested to find out what the drugs are composed of, including if they contain toxic substances or potent drugs like fentanyl. This technology can help people who use drugs take steps to reduce the risk of overdose.
In March 2019, Health Canada, in partnership with Impact Canada, selected the nine semi-finalists for the Drug-Checking Technology Challenge to encourage innovation in drug-checking technology and to help people who use drugs to more accurately determine the risks associated with drugs they consider taking.
The nine semi-finalists are:
- Scintrex Trace Corp.
- 5Bay Healthcare
- Greenlight Analytical Inc.
- Applied Environmental Research Laboratories, Vancouver Island University
- Spectra Plasmonics Inc.
- Université de Montréal
- Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation
- Carleton University, University of Ottawa
In September 2018, the governments of Canada and British Columbia signed a bilateral agreement under the Emergency Treatment Fund to contribute $71.1 million to enhance or increase access to quality treatment services for substance use disorder in British Columbia.
Budget 2019 commits additional funding of $30.5 million over 5 years for targeted measures to address persistent gaps in harm reduction and treatment. Specifically, funding will support efforts to expand access to a safe supply of prescription opioids, protecting people with problematic opioid use from the risks of overdose and death. It will also support better access to opioid overdose response training and to naloxone.
Office of Ginette Petitpas Taylor
Minister of Health
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