University of Victoria
Canadians are prescribed more opioid-based painkillers than in any other country. The strongly addictive side effects of this class of drugs sends many users to the streets in search of illicit substitutes when their prescriptions are no longer refilled. One of the most notorious compounds making headlines in Canada and around the world is fentanyl, a synthetic molecule originally used in palliative care, one hundred times more potent than morphine. Since fentanyl is cheap to produce and easily distributed, it is increasingly found mixed in heroin, crystal meth, and street. As a result, it is responsible for a growing number of deaths due to drug overdose. In 2016, British Columbia declared a public health emergency, the first of its kind in Canada with nearly 1000 fatalities.
STS Pain Pharmacy is a business in Victoria dedicated to the treatment of drug addiction and actively seeking tools that can detect and quantify compounds like fentanyl in substances that their clients bring in. Through an NSERC Engage grant, pharmacist and owner Alain Vincent has partnered with University of Victoria researcher Dr. Dennis Hore to work on a laser-based detection technology that is low-cost and compact enough to be installed in pharmacies and harm reduction sites. In addition to developing the open-source hardware, part of the goal is to create a shared library that may be used and expanded by others. This is anticipated to be particularly valuable as new drugs appear on the scene. With NSERC’s help in getting this off the ground, the next phase of the project will be to incorporate input from people who use drugs in Victoria, in order to augment the quantitative data with descriptions of user experiences.