The team at Substance hopes to better understand how drug checking can support those impacted by and responding to the overdose crisis
›› Laura Benoit
The Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project, located at Substance at 1802 Cook Street, offers free and confidential drug checking in Victoria through both in-person and mail-in services. The project team tests samples for fillers, fentanyl, or unexpected drugs. But the space also offers an important point of connection and conversation around safe use, harm reduction, and community.
“Fernwood is a progressive neighbourhood,” says Piotr Burek, Harm Reduction Worker and Research Assistant. “We wanted to fit harm reduction into the fabric of the neighbourhood, and to fit in to the broader discussion in how to create resilient communities that are responsive to their neighbours.”
In 2021, the project provided over 2,500 drug checks, both on site and through their sample mail-in program; and provided monthly, quarterly, and year-end reports on substances tested to offer information to the public and to help inform harm reduction strategies. In addition to providing these services and reports, the project site provides public space for conversation and interaction. “We know that stigma is one of the leading causes of the overdose crisis, preventing people from accessing resources,” says Bruce Wallis, Associate Professor at the UVic School of Social Work and Scientist, Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR). “Overdose is impacting individuals using at home most, and these individuals are concealing use from others because of the stigma of using drugs. We are working to create an actively anti-stigma space for individuals. We are very much an open door; we aren’t hiding drug use in our community.”
Part of the dialogue that is being created through the space is an understanding of the technology that is used to test drugs. Visitors to the space are welcome to see firsthand the technologies being utilized to provide drug checking services. But that isn’t the only way you can engage; you can follow the project’s Instagram account at @drugcheckingvi to see updates, links to report, and harm reduction tips. The space also showcases art, including a mural and continuously updated window designs from local artist Darcie Dark. You can visit the project team to learn more at 1802 Cook Street Monday through Saturday between 12 and 7pm.
Photo caption: Substance, located at 1802 Cook Street, is operated by the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project—a team of chemists, social workers, computer scientists, pharmacists, and people who use drugs, partnering to provide and evaluate drug checking services in Victoria. Photo: Jay Wallace