Overdose Prevention Sites, Supervised Consumption Services & Drug Checking

February 17, 2018. Article by: Government of B.C.

Harm reduction is a practical approach to keeping people safe. The approach aims to protect people who are engaged in higher-risk behaviour while at the same time, supporting them towards treatment and recovery. 

In B.C. the following strategies have been put in place to help to prevent and respond to overdoses. 

Overdose Prevention Sites

Overdose prevention sites are managed by health authorities in co-operation with community partners across the province. These designated spaces, which are integrated into existing social service or health care settings or in newly established locations, provide on-site monitoring for people at risk of overdose and allow for rapid response when an overdose occurs. While supervised consumption services require municipalities to seek an exemption from federal drug laws, the same  process is not required to establish an overdose prevention site.

Overdose prevention services are uniquely positioned as a low-barrier point of introduction to health and/or social services for people with substance use issues. Each site provides various levels of services, including overdose prevention education and Take Home Naloxone training and distribution. Some sites may also distribute harm reduction supplies (such as sterile needles, filters, cookers, condoms, etc.) offer safe disposal options, and facilitate referrals to mental health and substance use services. Currently, each British Columbia overdose prevention site offers drug checking services.

Supervised Consumption Services

Supervised consumption services provide clean, safe environments where people can use substances under the supervision of trained staff without the risk of arrest for drug possession.  These sites help reduce the transmission of disease, reduce fatal overdoses, and help connect people to health care services, including treatment. 

Supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites offer a wide range of complementary health services including:

  • Distribution of supplies for safer injection
  • Education on safe injection technique and infection prevention
  • Overdose prevention and intervention
  • Medical and counselling services
  • Referrals to substance use treatment
  • Connection to housing and other support services
  • Drug checking

Island Health

Interior Health:

Fraser Health:

Vancouver Coastal Health

Drug Checking

Currently, fentanyl test strips are provided in all supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites in B.C. The test strips, originally developed to check urine for drugs, test for the presence of fentanyl in illegal substances. To check their drugs, people who use substances dilute their substances with a few drops of water and the test strip will indicate a positive or negative result for fentanyl within seconds. This method has recently been discovered effective in detecting several other fentanyl analogues, including carfentanil.

With dangerous drugs like fentanyl contaminating the vast majority of street drugs, giving people information on what’s in the substance they are using can help them make informed decisions about whether or how much they consume – and could save lives.”- Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy

Another new drug-checking service is being tested in Vancouver – the first of its kind in Canada. The pilot study uses a portable drug checking machine called a Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR), and aims to determine whether greater access to drug-checking services will help prevent overdose deaths. The machine can test a range of substances, including opioids like heroin, stimulants like cocaine and other psychoactive drugs such as MDMA, also known as ecstasy. Testing with the FTIR can identify multiple compounds at once in a matter of minutes.

Research into drug-checking can help to answer key questions about how effective and reliable these technologies could be in reducing the devastating number of overdose deaths in B.C.

Learn more about overdose prevention and harm reduction: