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Posts from the ‘BC’ Category

Testing street drugs for fentanyl: Does it reduce overdoses?

A pilot project by Insite that allows drug users to check their drugs for the presence of fentanyl has received a lot of publicity. Now, according to this article in the Globe & Mail, the BC government is going to increase the availability of these tests:

British Columbia is set to expand a program to allow people to check their street drugs for fentanyl, the latest harm-reduction initiative to roll out amid skyrocketing overdose deaths.

The most recent figures from the provincial government show 1,103 confirmed deaths from overdoses of illicit drugs in the first nine months of this year. The year-end total is on pace to be around seven times the annual average in the 2000s.

I’m going to take a few moments to explain why this harm-reduction strategy, in its current form, is a bad idea.

First, it is likely that cross-contamination is causing false positives. Insite is not a sterile lab environment, and nor are the drug users who are conducting these tests. Trace amounts of fentanyl and other opiates are likely present on their hands, clothes, etc. Only a very small amount of fentanyl is required to generate a positive test result.

Street drugs are often cut with a buffer, and the result is not a uniform mixture. For example, low-grade heroin cut with fentanyl has not been mixed to pharmaceutical standards. A tiny sample tested at Insite might have no fentanyl, but there could still be enough fentanyl in the remaining dose to kill the user. Also, the tests used by Insite result in false negatives. It’s also worth noting the tests can detect fentanyl, but may not be able to accurately or reliably detect other synthetic drugs such as W-18. The latter is known to be present in British Columbia. W-18 is orders of magnitude more toxic than fentanyl.

As mentioned the test itself, even if used correctly, inherently has a false negative rate. This means the test will sometimes come back negative even through fentanyl is present. Furthermore, the drug test strips were only designed to be used for human urine samples as a preliminary test. I obtained a copy of the BTNX Single Drug Test Strip from Kwan Tse, manager of QA / RA at BTNX Inc.  Excerpts from this product insert include numerous warnings (emphasis added by me).

In the section labeled INTENDED USE:

The Rapid Response Single Drug Test Strip is rapid chromatographic immunoassays for the qualitative and simultaneous detection of one of the following drugs in a variety of combinations in human urine.

This assay provides only a preliminary analytical test result. A more specific alternative chemical method must be used in order to obtain a confirmed analytical result.

In the section labeled QUALITY CONTROL:

Good laboratory practice recommends the use of control materials to ensure proper kit performance. Quality control specimens are available from commercial sources and are recommended to be used daily. Use the same assay procedure as with a urine specimen. Controls should be challenging to the assay cutoff concentration. If control values do not fall within established limits, assay results are invalid. Users should follow the appropriate federal, state, and local guidelines concerning the running of external quality controls.

There is no indication from Insite that control materials were used on a daily basis to ensure the validity of their off-label fentanyl screening tests. As such their test results are unreliable.

In the section labeled LIMITATIONS OF THE TEST:

The assay is designed for use with human urine only.

There is a possibility that technical or procedural error as well other substances as factors not listed may interfere with the test and cause false results. See SPECIFICITY for lists of substances that will produce either positive results, or that do not interfere with test performance.

In the section labeled Specificity:

The Specificity for the Rapid Response Single Drug Test Strip has been tested by adding various drugs, drug metabolites, and other compounds that are likely to be present in drug-free normal human urine. The Rapid Response Single Drug Test Strip performance at cutoff point are not affected when pH range of urine specimens is at 3.0 to 8.5 and specific gravity range of urine specimens is at near 1.005 to 1.03.

The specificity testing for this product was limited as the company was only considering what was likely to be found in drug-free human urine. It should be obvious by now that this product was never designed to be used for the testing of unknown street drugs prior to their consumption by humans.

The pilot project results obtained by Insite are compromised by these limitations. It is likely that various adulterants in street drugs as well as the drugs themselves are causing either false positives or false negatives.

There is also a risk that Insite is simply confirming the presence of fentanyl for drug traffickers whose true intention is to sell fentanyl on the streets. The data from the pilot project hints at this. Here is an excerpt from the abstract presented at the 2017 Harm Reduction International conference:

Of substances checked pre-consumption, compared to receiving a negative result, receiving a positive result did result in more dose reductions (37% vs. 8%) but not in more disposals (9% vs. 8%).

And so even when street drugs tested positive for fentanyl, the users did not get rid of their drugs.  The users said (to Insite staff) that they were reducing their planned dose, but there was no way to verify the truth of those statements. What the data shows is that clients walked out of Insite with their fentanyl-laced dope. Their likely plan was to sell their fentanyl to unsuspecting users, or to keep it for themselves and use it on their own.  Both choices have almost certainly resulted in fatal consequences for people who use drugs in British Columbia.

I have been a public advocate of harm reduction for almost a decade. But harm reduction supporters should not blindly accept every strategy and method put forward as harm reduction. Because the Insite pilot project did not result in users getting rid of their fentanyl, it cannot be said that testing street drugs for fentanyl actually reduces overdoses.

One last point: The data showing that users did not dispose of their fentanyl-laced drugs (once they become aware of the contamination) was never included in the original media release by Vancouver Coastal Health. I think it was an important point for journalists to know. Particularly as that media release generated worldwide coverage. Users and user-dealers were walking out the doors of Insite into the broader community, believing that the dope in their possession was fentanyl. It should have been in the original media release.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog post represent my own personal views, and not those of my employer (or any other organization).

Using Canadian C-17 Globemaster III’s to fight wildfires

Today I’m thinking about the wildfires raging in British Columbia. And how to increase our capacity to respond. One resource worth considering is that Canada has five C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. This research paper was presented at the 16th Australian International Aerospace Congress, in 2015. It says the C-17 could (in theory) temporarily become a 50,000 litre air tanker. Here’s the abstract:

Australian summers are hot and dry and bushfires are a significant risk to life and property. The worst ever recorded natural disaster were the Victorian Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009, where 173 people lost their lives. To limit bushfire damage, an effective firefighting capability is essential. This project investigated the feasibility of using existing military assets and converting them to firefighting/control capability on an as required basis. This paper presents a conceptual design of a RAAF C-17 Globemaster III conversion to a temporary firefighting platform that provides three support roles: water drop, in-flight refill of standard firefighting aircraft and in-situ surveillance, command and control. Provisions were made for quick conversion with minor structural modifications to allow return to military status.

C17 Cargo Drop, FA2012-1007

In the Canadian Forces, these aircraft are designated as the CC-177 Globemaster III. This plane can travel very long distances and carry extremely heavy payloads. And it can operate from short runways in difficult environments all over the world.

There have been calls to bring the Martin Mars water bomber back into service.  However the Martin Mars “only” holds 27,276 litres of water (compared to 50,000 litres, potentially, for the C-17). The Martin Mars has been in service since 1944.  Over seventy years!  Not a lot of aircraft that have been in operation for that long.  The C-17 Globemaster III entered service in 1995, so that’s a fifty year difference in aircraft technology.

Obviously this is not something that could be used right now, but perhaps it is worth exploring for the future.

A new RCMP police academy for British Columbia

Note: Permission is granted for the following essay to be reprinted in any newspaper, provided the author info and disclaimer at the end remains intact.

Since 1885, the RCMP has been training recruits at “Depot,” its police academy in Regina, Saskatchewan. While the quality of instruction is not in doubt, Depot’s monopoly on training new officers could be hurting our national police force.  British Columbia needs – and deserves – its own RCMP recruit academy.

“E” Division is responsible for all provincial and federal policing in British Columbia. It also provides municipal policing services, on a contract basis, to 63 municipalities across the province. About one third of all RCMP officers work in E Div. That’s more than 7000 officers, making it the largest division in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Yet time and time again, there are media reports of staffing shortages. These shortages have real impacts on sworn officers, civilian employees and the communities they serve. It is, perhaps, not surprising that the yellow stripe protest originated in British Columbia. This protest has quickly developed into the largest police labour action in Canadian history.

Would officers still be wearing their yellow stripes if every detachment in BC was fully staffed? It’s tough to say. But what we can say is that a new police academy would improve recruiting and training outcomes. It would provide municipalities with confidence that detachment vacancies will be filled. It would create a more diverse candidate pool. And it would send a signal that the RCMP is changing.

Imagine your dream is to become an RCMP officer. You grew up in Kelowna, earned a degree from the University of Victoria, and now you live and work in the Lower Mainland. You’re excited by the Force’s existing commitment to allow you to return home to BC after graduation from Depot.

But there’s a problem: You’re in a new relationship, and you’re not sure it will survive a long-term absence. Or, maybe you have an aging parent whom you’re not in a position to leave for months at a time. Perhaps you have young children of your own. There are all kinds of reasons why someone can’t pick up and move across the country for six months.

Facing this dilemma, would you apply to the RCMP? Or would you apply to a municipal police department in British Columbia? My own choice, made over a decade ago, was the latter.

The winter in Regina certainly doesn’t help. At one point this week – the middle of April – it was minus five degrees Celsius, with winds of more than 20 km/h. And it snowed!

The end result is that instead of hiring the very best candidates, the RCMP is hiring the best candidates who are able to move to Regina.

There is a better way for our province. Pacific Region Training Centre, located in Chilliwack, is the most logical place for a new recruit academy. It is currently used by the RCMP to offer advanced courses to law enforcement agencies across Western Canada. In 2015, the facility opened a $20 million, state-of-the-art indoor firing range. The 60 acre campus has onsite living accommodations for over two hundred students.

Alternative locations include the new E Division Headquarters in Surrey, as well as the Justice Institute of British Columbia in New Westminster. So there are suitable places that exist now. This doesn’t have be a big project involving land acquisition, zoning, construction, etc. The first recruit class could be up and running in ninety days.

British Columbians are headed to the polls on May 9th. During the campaign it is important to discuss positive solutions to challenges faced by the RCMP. For more than 130 years, Mounties have been trained in Regina. Depot is a place that is steeped in honour and ceremony. Now it is time for the RCMP to create new history, and new traditions, by adding a second recruit academy.  Right here in British Columbia.

David Bratzer is a police officer in British Columbia. He is a certified police candidate assessor as well as an experienced field training officer. The opinions expressed in this essay are his own personal views and do not represent those of his employer.

Areas of British Columbia with large reductions in violent crime

According to the BC government’s own compilation of crime data, some areas of the province have experienced massive reductions in violent crime.

Look at what happened to violent offences in Prince George during the past ten years. The population decreased by 2% – 1,552 people – during this period. But there was a 43% decrease in violent offences:

  • 2006          2,734
  • 2007          2,516
  • 2008          1,902
  • 2009          2,063
  • 2010          2,275
  • 2011          2,205
  • 2012          2,192
  • 2013          1,819
  • 2014          1,584
  • 2015          1,538

What is going on here? What is this RCMP detachment doing? What is the municipality doing?  What is the community doing? It would be interesting to figure out is happening.

Here is Kelowna. Their population increased by 13%, 14,344 people, over the last decade. But they experienced a 55% decrease in violent crime:

  • 2006         2,479
  • 2007         2,313
  • 2008         2,068
  • 2009         2,126
  • 2010         2,090
  • 2011         1,942
  • 2012         1,806
  • 2013         1,835
  • 2014         1,415
  • 2015         1,097

Here is Nanaimo. Their population grew by 12%, or 9,755 people. But they experienced a 49% decrease in violent crime:

  • 2006         2,225
  • 2007         1,737
  • 2008         1,632
  • 2009         1,636
  • 2010         1,693
  • 2011         1,403
  • 2012         1,429
  • 2013         1,422
  • 2014         1,127
  • 2015         1,134

New Westminster has a municipal police department (as compared to an RCMP detachment). Their population increased by 18%, that’s 11,169 new residents. They experienced a 39% decrease in violent crime:

  • 2006         1,437
  • 2007         1,314
  • 2008         1,204
  • 2009         1,058
  • 2010         1,122
  • 2011         939
  • 2012         1,014
  • 2013         953
  • 2014         874
  • 2015         876

Vancouver, another municipal police department, experienced an 8% increase in population (49,569 more people). But violent offences in the city dropped by 27%:

  • 2006         11,015
  • 2007         10,769
  • 2008         10,858
  • 2009         10,838
  • 2010         10,442
  • 2011         10,055
  • 2012         9,218
  • 2013         8,832
  • 2014         8,221
  • 2015         8,007

Burnaby, Campbell River, Comox, Delta, Duncan, Kamloops are some of the other cities and towns that saw large drops in violent crime.

According to the definitions and data qualifiers section of the document: “Violent crimes include the offences of homicide, attempted murder, sexual and non-sexual assault, sexual offences against children, abduction, forcible confinement or kidnapping, firearms, robbery, criminal harassment, extortion, uttering threats, and threatening or harassing phone calls and other violent offences.”

Don’t buy property in the City of Victoria

Mayor Lisa Helps and Councillor Chris Coleman are putting the following motion before the Committee of the Whole on April 6th. It’s Item #16 on the agenda:

Recommendation: That Council amend the Streets and Traffic Bylaw to add Section 84(3) as follows: Section 84(3) An exemption to the provisions of this section shall occur when the CMHC vacancy rate for Victoria is at• 3% or lower. When the exemption is in place, people sleeping in their vehicles must not park their vehicles on any street for the purposes of sleeping before 7pm and must not remain parked on any street for the purposes of sleeping after 7am.

Want to know what this will look like?  Take all the derelict boats from the Gorge waterway, multiply by 100 and put them in Fairfield, Rockland, James Bay, North Park, Oaklands, Vic West and downtown. In a city still healing from the crime and violence of tent city, it is incredible that a proposal would be put forward to enable camping on Burdett Avenue and other city streets. These campers will be even closer to houses and apartment buildings than tent city.

What are the dangers? Disposal of human feces, for starters. Noise complaints. Fire hazards (open flame) from candles and portable stoves. Vehicle engines left running all night. Use of loud generators in residential neighbourhoods. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Consumption of alcohol and drugs inside cars. Care and control of a vehicle while impaired. Drug trafficking in and around vehicles. Fatal drug overdoses.  Hoarders and other people with serious mental health problems living inside cars. Car cities – the new “tent city” – popping up throughout Victoria. CarBnB. Extra wake-ups for bylaw and police. A national incentive for every predatory criminal with a vehicle to travel here.  Those are a few concerns off the top of my head. But none of these issues are mentioned in the report from Mayor Helps and Councillor Coleman.

The proposal is based on a Facebook poll with eight responses.  Look at the response from “male 05”:

Oh yeah- my buddy [name removed] was sleeping in his truck-camper (the carry-along kind in the box of the truck), in the parking lot of [name removed] after hosting the Thursday night jam they have there. He was woken up by the cops at 1am as well and told that he had to move along- difficult to do when you’ve been hosting a jam for free beer essentially. He had to go into the hotel lobby with the cops to confirm that he had been working there, and that they knew he was sleeping in the parking lot and were ok with it. He was informed by the cops that if they found him there again he would be ticketed and possibly towed for ‘drinking and driving’ Again, in spite of the fact that the hotel was ok with him being there

Taking this third-hand account at face value, a drunk musician parked overnight on private property.  Police used discretion, issued a warning, and did not investigate him for care and control of a vehicle while impaired by alcohol. Is this truly a good reason to allow anyone to live in cars on public streets?

This proposal reinforces the uncertainty that has been felt by residents and businesses for a long time. No one in Victoria knows what will happen to the streets, parks and schools in their neighbourhoods. It is completely unpredictable.  Not just on a five year timeline, or a one year timeline, but even on a month-to-month basis.

And this is why I always say to anyone who asks: “Don’t buy property in the City of Victoria.”