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How a new drug-checking kit could turn smartphones into overdose prevention tools

From the CBC Radio piece:

…A solution might come from Dr. Dan Werb, an epidemiologist and executive director of the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation in Toronto.

Over the last four years, he has been developing a cheaper, portable drug-testing device alongside Dr. Drew Hall, a colleague from the University of San Diego where Werb is an assistant professor.

“We’re academics, we’re scientists,” Werb told Day 6 host Brent Bambury, “I’m [not] a technologist, so I think we’re coming at this from a different angle.”

The device, called DoseCheck, is about the size of a smartphone, Bluetooth-enabled and made up of a circuit board, sensor and battery.

When voltage runs through the sensor, different drugs create peaks at different voltages. Each peak’s height signals the concentration of that drug within the sample. Sensors can be changed to detect new contaminants as they’re discovered in the drug supply.

That data is then sent to a smartphone app which performs the analysis and gives the user a breakdown of the drug.

In 2019, the device was announced as a finalist in Health Canada’s Drug Checking Technology Challenge, launched a year earlier to encourage innovations in harm reduction.

Werb said that drug-checking technologies aren’t widely available, and the machines that are remain pricy because of a lack of interest from companies.

“It’s a non-viable business model for major technology companies,” he said. “People who are structurally vulnerable and using drugs, and frontline harm-reduction workers, that’s not a huge market.”

Werb expects DoseCheck will retail between $300 and $350, a price he hopes will be friendlier to centres like VANDU who don’t receive federal funding for drug checking. It is expected to hit the market within the next year to 18 months.

He also hopes DoseCheck will extend access to drug testing into Canada’s more remote areas.

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