In this blog post, we discuss our October 2023 report and provide more information on how to interpret the results. The PDF report can be found at the end.
- The median fentanyl concentration found across all drug categories was 8.9%
- The median fluorofentanyl concentration found across all drug categories was 9.2%
- Carfentanil was found in 10 expected opioid - down samples with a median concentration of 0.2% and maximum concentration of 0.4%
- Benzodiazepines were found in 54% (139/258) of expected opioid-down samples
- Bromazolam, the most common benzo found within opioid-down, was found in 117 opioid-down samples with a median concentration of 3.6% and maximum concentration of 25.0%
- Xylazine was found in 17 expected Opioid - down samples with a median concentration of 1.2% and a maximum concentration of 15.4%
Insight for the October 2023 Monthly Report
This blog, and the associated pdf report, breakdown our sample counts into six categories:
samples received through direct service provision in Victoria, where service users are bringing samples into the Substance storefront. These samples are labelled as "Substance" samples in the figures/tables of this blog post
samples received through direct service provision in Campbell River, where service users bring samples either to the Vancouver Island Mental Health Society (VIHMS) or Campbell River AVI Health & Community Services. These samples are labelled as "Campbell River"
samples received through direct service provision in the Comox Valley, where service users are bringing samples to AVI Health & Community Services in Courtenay, BC. These samples are labelled as "Comox Valley"
samples received through direct service provision in the Cowichan Valley, where service users bring samples to the Duncan Lookout Society OPS in Duncan, BC. These samples are labelled as "Duncan"
samples received through direct service provision in Port Alberni, where service users bring samples into Port Alberni Shelter Society’s OPS. These samples are labelled as "Port Alberni"
samples received through indirect service provision, where samples are collected through no-contact drop-off envelopes, by harm reduction workers and other community members at supported housing sites, overdose prevention sites, and supervised consumption locations. These samples are labelled as "Outreach" samples in the figures/tables herein
Fig. 1 shows the prevalence of each expected drug category checked, split by sample collection location/method.
October's Sample Breakdown: Trick? or Treat?
For the majority of samples checked, we confirm the presence of the expected drug with no additional active compounds detected above the limitations of the drug check. The bar charts below highlight a few classes of drugs, differentiating samples where only the expected active component was detected - from situations when other unexpected active components were detected.
95% (37/39) of expected ketamine samples checked in October were confirmed to be ketamine with no other active compounds detected. The remaining two expected ketamine samples (both from Victoria) were found to contain ketamine as the main active ingredient, with one being cut with dimethyl sulfone (MSM) and the other being cut with taurine.
Cocaine HCl and Cocaine Base
92% (89/97) of expected cocaine samples (82 cocaine HCl/soft, 15 cocaine base/hard/crack) were confirmed to be cocaine with no additional active compounds detected.
5 samples contained an active component in addition to cocaine (all from Victoria):
- 1 sample contained cocaine HCl and phenacetin in addition to the expected cocaine base
- 2 samples contained phenacetin in addition to the expected cocaine HCl
- 1 sample contained MDMA in addition to the expected cocaine HCl
- 1 sample contained lidocaine in addition to the expected cocaine HCl
3 samples contained solely unepxected active components (not cocaine HCl or cocaine base)
- 1 expected cocaine base sample contained methamphetamine instead
- 1 expected cocaine HCl sample contained bromazolam and microcrystalline cellulose instead
- 1 expected cocaine HCl sample contained ketamine instead
87% (26/30) of expected methamphetamine samples checked were found to be methamphetamine with no other active compounds detected.
2 samples contained solely unepxected active components (both from Victoria)
- 1 sample contained cocaine base instead of the expected methamphetamine
- 1 sample contained MDMA instead of the expected methamphetamine
2 samples from the Comox Valley contained bromazolam and phenacetin in addition to methamphetamine
MDMA and MDA
86% (73/85) of expected MDA/MDMA samples checked were confirmed to be MDA (3 samples) or MDMA (70 samples) as expected.
4 samples contained an active component in addition to MDA or MDMA (all from Victoria or Outreach):
- 1 sample contained MDMA in addition to MDA
- 3 samples contained MDA in addition to MDMA
8 samples contained solely unepxected active components (not MDA or MDMA)
- 1 sample contained cocaine HCl instead of the expected MDMA
- 6 samples contained MDA instead the expected MDMA
- 1 sample contained MDMA instead of the expected MDA
73% (8/11) of the expected benzodiazepine samples checked in October came to our service sites in the form of pressed pills with the following expected and detected compositions:
Within the remaining three samples, all had an expected unknown or unspecified active component. They were found to contain the following:
- 1 sample contained flualprazolam and caffeine
- 1 sample contained bromazolam
- 1 sample contained bromazolam and an undifferentiated carbohydrate
Opioid-positivity in non-opioid-down samples
In October, we checked 311 samples that were not expected to contain fentanyl or other “unexpected” opioids. Since the opioid-down supply is no longer “just heroin” or “just fentanyl” and is instead a complex, potent, and ever-changing polysubstance market containing other synthetic opioids like fluorofentanyl or nitazenes, here we will examine the prevalence of any unexpected opioid, not just fentanyl, detected in non-opioid-down samples.
Specifically, we are excluding samples that were expected to be “opioid-down” or samples that had an “unknown/missing” expected composition. In the case of “opioid-other” samples, e.g. hydromorphone tablets and oxycodone pills, “unexpected opioids” are defined as any opioid that is not the expected opioid. ↩︎
Examining Table 3, we find that two samples tested positive for unexpected opioids in October, representing 0.6% of all non-opioid-down samples checked. These samples were as follows:
- 1 expected oxycodone sample contained an undifferentiated fentanyl analogue in addition to the expected oxycodone
- 1 expected oxycodone sample contained isotonitazene instead of the expected oxycodone
In October, no unexpected opioids were detected in samples expected to be cocaine, MDMA/MDA, dissociatives, methamphetamine, psychedelics, benzodiazepines, or other.
In people’s personal quests for bodily autonomy and informed consumption, there is often evaluation of risk and consequence, but when the consequences can be severe and the risks are unknown or are intentionally exaggerated, these become difficult, if not impossible, conversations to weigh. We believe that drug checking can help provide people with the information needed to evaluate the risks, and provides harm reduction advice to minimize undesired consequences of substance use. These data are not meant to downplay concerns or invalidate past experiences. We recognize the tragic consequences of when fentanyl is found in non-opioid samples and honour the heartbreak that such experiences produce. Instead, we present these data with the intent to combat misinformation and provide an evidence-based context for people to consider when making decisions about substance use. While these numbers reflect what we have seen over the course of the project, these (roughly) 1-in-155 events still occur, so we always encourage folks to get their stuff checked.
In this section we present results specific to the opioid-down supply, therefore they may differ from the highlighted findings above that are inclusive of all expected drug categories.
- 79% of expected opioid-down samples contained fentanyl (204/258)
- 75% of expected opioid-down sample contained fluorofentanyl or fluorofentanyl base (194/258)
- 18 samples contained heroin (7% of expected opioid-down samples)
- 12 contained related alkaloids to heroin such as acetylmorphine (MAM), acetylcodeine, or morphine
- 9 samples contaning heroin included one or more of the following additional actives: fentanyl, fluorofentanyl, isobutyryl fentanyl, and bromazolam
- 10 expected opioid-down samples contained carfentanil
- 54% (139/258) of expected opioid-down samples contained a benzodiazepine
- The most common benzodiazepine in opioid-down samples was bromazolam (117), followed by undifferentiated benzos (20), and flubromazepam (6)
- Xylazine was detected in 7% (18/258) of opioid-down samples, most commonly being found in outreach samples
In October, 69% (179/258) of all opioid-down samples checked contained an additional active to the expected fentanyl/heroin. These data are shown in Fig. 3 highlighting the prevalence of benzos, fluorofentanyl, and xylazine in the down supply.
Fluorofentanyl was the most common additional active found within the opioid-down supply, with 54% (140/258) of opioid-down samples containing fluorofentanyl in addition to fentanyl. Additionally, fluorofentanyl was the only opioid detected in 18% (46/258) of opioid-down samples (i.e. no fentanyl or heroin was detected in these samples).
Benzo-related drugs contribute to a majority of the other additional actives found in expected opioid-down samples, with 54% (139/258) of expected opioid-down samples checked containing a benzo-related drug. Bromazolam continues to be the most common benzo seen in the down supply, with bromazolam being detected in 45% (117/258) of the benzo-positive opioid-down samples. Scattered detections of other drugs are still found and can be reviewed in the pdf report at the end of this blog.
Quantification for Expected Opioid-Down
In October, we quantified fentanyl for 187 of the expected opioid-down samples containing fentanyl and found the median concentration to be 8.9%. Though the median is a useful indicator, it doesn’t capture the volatility of fentanyl concentrations present in the opioid supply, as half of fentanyl-positive down samples contained between 3.1% and 16.3% fentanyl, and any one sample might be the lowest strength (0.1%) or the strongest (>80%). Fluorofentanyl was seen at concentrations ranging from 0.2% to greater than 40%[3:1] as well, with a median concentration of 9.1%. Similarly, the concentration of bromazolam was across the board in expected opioid down samples, with samples ranging from less than 0.1% to greater than 25.0%[3:2] bromazolam, with a median of 3.6%. For context, a sample containing 4% bromazolam would be roughly equivalent to two full 2mg Xanax bars worth of benzo per point (100mg).
Not all opioid down samples brought to our service can be quantified. This is primarily due to too limited sample collected for our instruments to report a reliable mass percentage. Nevertheless, qualitative detection is still possible. ↩︎
This number is specific to fentanyl quantified in opioid-down samples. The median concentration listed in the Key Findings at the beginning of this blog (8.9%) is inclusive of all samples checked, across all drug classes and unknown samples, that contained fentanyl. ↩︎
For samples that contain greater than 80% fentanyl or heroin, greater than 40% fluorofentanyl, or greater than 25% bromazolam by weight, our mass spectrometer is presently unable to reproducibly assign a concentration due to the upper limits of the calibration methods currently adopted. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎
The fentanyl, fluorofentanyl, and bromazolam concentrations that we quantified in October, across all expected drug categories and service models, are presented in Fig. 4. Small black dots are individual opioid-down samples, the large white dot shows the median concentration, dashed white lines bound half of the quantified samples, and the width of the shaded regions mirrors the number of samples at a given concentration.
We can also examine the regional variability in the unregulated market. The table below expands on the quantitative data presented above. It focuses only on fentanyl, fluorofentanyl, carfentanil, bromazolam, and xylazine quantified within expected opioid-down samples, separated by collection location/model. Weight percentage is reported; “IQR” is the interquartile range: the range that contains half of the quantified samples.
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Check back next month for the November report!
As always, send us feedback at email@example.com on how we can continue to offer our drug checking results in a useful way.