This application requests funding for the rigorous scientific evaluation of a provincial drug checking program in
a Canadian setting where drug checking is legal. Drug checking—the analysis of illicit drug samples and
provision of drug composition information back to people who use drugs (PWUD)—is a highly innovative public
health intervention that can equip PWUD with crucial information and potentially contribute to life-saving behavior
change. This is particularly relevant in light of the most serious drug overdose crisis in North American history.
Evidence indicates that fentanyl and fentanyl analogues are increasingly found as adulterants in the street opioid
supply across much of the continent, and may also be found in the stimulant and psychedelic street drug supply.
While various drug checking technologies have been used in some European jurisdictions to reduce the risks of
using illicit recreational drugs (e.g., MDMA, ecstasy) in the electronic dance music scene, drug checking of other
street drugs is still nascent in North America and remains largely illegal in the U.S. In the Canadian province of
British Columbia, governments at all levels have supported drug checking programs as part of their opioid
overdose emergency response and have invested in technology and operational funding for drug checking
services, including both rapid point-of-care and laboratory-based confirmatory testing. This represents a
significant opportunity to study this intervention and its impacts on opioid overdose risk. Accordingly, this
application seeks to fund a rigorous scientific evaluation that aims to evaluate and describe the rate and patterns
of uptake of point-of-care drug checking technologies by various drug market actors (e.g., opioid users, stimulant
users, drug dealers). It further aims to behavioral impacts and overdose risk reduction practices (e.g., using less)
associated with receipt of quantitative and qualitative drug checking results among different drug market actors.
Lastly, it aims to examine the impact of drug checking service utilization on non-fatal and fatal overdose events.
This highly innovative and significant program of research involves the use of three complementary sources of
data: 1) baseline questionnaire data, which captures information on demographics, drug use patterns and
behaviors, and social-structural and environmental exposures; 2) longitudinal data on street drug contents using
point-of-care and established laboratory techniques as well as data on intended behaviors following receipt of
drug checking results; and 3) detailed longitudinal administrative public health data available on overdose
outcomes through Canada’s universal health care system. Collectively, these data will be confidentially linked
and used to evaluate how such information can be integrated into addiction treatment and substance use focused
public health programming. Investigating innovative solutions to the opioid crisis is perfectly aligned with NIDA’s
plans to highlight research on synthetic psychoactive drugs, as well as with the broad behavioral intervention
goals identified by NIH’s HEAL and Opioid Initiatives, which include research dedicated to preventing and