VIU innovation will become weapon in fight on fentanyl


WATCH: A major innovation coming out of Vancouver Island University (VIU) in Nanaimo could soon become a weapon in the war on fentanyl. The deadly drug is responsible for an epidemic in fatal overdoses and VIU scientists have come up with a way to tell within seconds whether the drug a user is about to take will kill them.

A team of Nanaimo-based scientists has made a discovery that has them very excited.

“This technique could save a lot of lives,” said VIU Chemistry Student Armin Saatchi.

“It’s a no-brainer to take it to the next step for this crisis in Canada,” said VIU Chemistry Professor Dr. Chris Gill.

Their finding is a high-tech weapon for the war on fentanyl. Remarkably the innovation was made with a piece of donated equipment from BC Children’s Hospital.

It’s a mass spectrometer that’s lovingly known as “Max” around Vancouver Island University’s chemistry lab.

“The gentleman who sold us this had a young son who couldn’t say mass spectrometer,” said Saatchi.

“So he said Max-twometer. So this has always been Max.”

What Max can do in the war on drugs is a very big deal. It detects the smallest amounts of fentanyl in a drug, below five per cent. They are amounts that can still prove deadly but there is currently no test for it.

“We know fentanyl and it’s various forms are in street drugs everywhere,” said Dr. Gill.

“But how much is there is really quite important because it could be a slight contamination or it could be enough to be lethal the first time.”

Max was first used by VIU’s chemistry department for environmental research. It provided quick test results.

With the skyrocketing overdose crisis emerging on Vancouver Island, Gill considered how it might be used to test drugs. He tried some tests and the results he’s seen and shared with the medical community have them on board to get a more portable “mini-Max” in the hands of overdose prevention sites as soon as possible.

“This truly is an international benefit,” said Medical Health Officer for the Central Island Dr. Paul Hasselback.

“And its cool that it’s happening in Nanaimo.”

Dr. Hasselback has applied for grants to get a “mini Max” in the field for trials and hopes that could happen within six months.

“This issue has become so widespread and such an epidemic that no one’s more than a degree or two of separation away from someone who’s suffering,” said Saatchi.


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