Victoria harm-reduction sites now have a fast and accurate drug-analysis tool to help prevent overdose deaths.

Developed by a University of Victoria social worker and chemist, technicians will be able to test a sample of drugs as small as a grain of salt.

The tests are intended for those who use drugs to learn critical information about the ingredients and potency of the drugs they take. The three-year pilot project was made possible by $1.7-million grant from Health Canada's Substance Use and Addictions Program.

"The crisis continues to be one of serious public health issues in Canada's recent history," said federal Health Minister Ginette Petipas Taylor. "We know the vast majority of deaths occurred because of substances that were tainted with fentanyl."

More than 100 people died in Greater Victoria last year because of the presence of fentanyl and carfentanil in the drug supply.

UVic researchers, including nursing faculty and computer scientists, will also explore what type of service works for whom and in what settings. The program is being offered as a free and confidential drug-checking program at harm-reduction agencies in Victoria.

"There are still a large portion of individuals who basically use in their homes and they have the drug supply that is killing them," said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health's chief medical health officer. "This is going to give us an amazing degree of nimbleness to not only the needs of our clients but giving us a better understanding of what is happening in our community."

Healthcare providers say this is needed in the community so people who use drugs can feel comfortable about getting their drugs tested. If they choose to go home and use, at least they will know what they are using.

"If it even saves one life it is going to be valuable and I suspect it is going to do a lot more than that," Stanwick said.

The current testing sites are at AIDS Vancouver Island and SOLID Outreach in Victoria. As the project progresses, UVic researchers will evaluate the data they collect with the hope of offering services at more locations on Vancouver Island.