A student group at the University of B..C.’s Vancouver campus has secured a permanent supply of fentanyl–testing strips to give out on campus.
The UBC Social Justice Centre received 1,000 test strips last month that are now available for students to pick up from two locations: the AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre and the Resource Groups Centre, both located in the Nest.
The strips are a way to protect students who use illicit drugs amid the ongoing opioid crisis in B.C.
Sienna Nargang-White, a UBC student and member of the social justice centre, said this student-led distribution effort will be used “indefinitely, until we can find a better solution or until UBC steps up.”
Nargang-White and others have expressed concerns about the lack of action from UBC on harm-reduction issues, especially regarding drug testing and raising awareness of the toxic drug supply. Nargang-White said the university has been “vocally supportive” of student distribution efforts but has not provided any financial support.
So for now, the strips are being paid for by students through their student-society fees to the AMS.
UBC community not immune
The opioid crisis has hit every part of the province. From January to October, paramedics have responded to 50 overdoses at UBC, according to BC Emergency Health Services.
September and October show the highest monthly count for overdose calls at the university campus. In September, there were eight responses; in October, there were 10.
Cristina Ilnitchi, an interdisciplinary student at UBC and the former AMS vice-president for external affairs, worked with the social-justice centre to secure a supply of fentanyl test strips.
She emphasized the importance of making harm-reduction resources available on campus and as low-barrier as possible.
“The reality is that students use drugs,” she said.
Clear demand on campus
Fentanyl test strips are a key intervention in preventing overdose deaths to foster discussion about safer drug use, according to Vancouver Coastal Health.
However, they may not detect other drugs, which are increasingly being found in the illicit opioid supply.
A survey created by the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy was sent out to gauge the demand for a drug–checking service at UBC. Out of 150 preliminary responses, it is almost unanimous that community members would like to see more permanent harm–reduction efforts on campus.
The social- justice centre hopes to leverage this data to inspire more action from UBC.
UBC student health services offers free naloxone kits to students who make an appointment with a nurse for training. They did not provide an explanation of why they do not offer fentanyl-testing strips.
“We’re definitely looking for a wider–scale participation in this, especially from the folks higher up in UBC,” said Nargang-White.