People who use drugs in Toronto have long advocated for access to drug checking in an effort to reduce the harms associated with using drugs from the unregulated supply.
Launched in 2019, Toronto’s Drug Checking Service offers people who use drugs timely and detailed information on the contents of their drugs, helping them to make more informed decisions.
This drug checking service also helps to uncover the makeup of Toronto’s unregulated drug supply, which includes illegal drugs, as well as legal drugs diverted from regulated markets for sale through criminal channels. Information on Toronto’s unregulated drug supply is made publicly available.
An innovative solution to protect people who rely on the street opioid supply
Drug checking is an innovative harm-reduction solution that has been available in Europe since the 1990s. Drug checking allows people to test substances and/or used drug paraphernalia to find out their composition. Clients get their results along with harm reduction strategies to help them make educated choices about their drug use, and to help them avoid taking deadly amounts of toxic substances.
The pilot program for Toronto’s Drug Checking Service launched in October 2019 within Dr. Dan Werb’s Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation. Over the course of the pilot period, more than 10,000 samples from the unregulated drug supply were checked and over 450 unique drugs were identified – many of which can be directly linked to overdose. Service users, who submitted substance or used equipment samples to be checked, were provided with detailed information on the composition of their drugs, along with tailored strategies to reduce harm and referrals to drug-related, health, and social services via integrated community health agencies. Samples were analyzed by the clinical laboratories at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and St. Michael’s Hospital. Beyond educating individual service users, results for all samples were collated and analyzed to perform unregulated drug market monitoring, then translated and publicly disseminated every other week to communicate unregulated drug market trends to those who could not directly access the service, as well as to inform care for people who use drugs, advocacy, policy, and research.
Key objectives for phase 2 of the program are to:
- Improve access to drug checking in Toronto by increasing the number of sites that offer services
- Support the delivery of drug checking services in jurisdictions across Ontario by sharing tools, resources, and expertise to reduce the barriers associated with offering services while increasing health system efficiencies
- Conduct unregulated drug market monitoring for Ontario by bringing together data generated from checking samples using a variety of drug checking technologies
- Translate findings to advocate for services and safer alternatives for people who use drugs
MAP’s drug checking unit collaborates with Dr. Dan Werb’s Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation, as well as other MAP scientists on research and implementation science projects related to substance use and harm reduction.