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The Last “First”

The Chicago Recovery Alliance is excited & proud to launch an exciting new initiative: The Alliance for Collaborative Drug Checking—Real Time (ACDC-RT)!

To our knowledge, this is one of the first real-time, triangulated spectrometer drug checking projects in the country. We are all thrilled for the possibilities! At the same time, the launch has been emotional for us. This is the final revolutionary brainchild of our founding director Dan Bigg, who doggedly worked toward the idea’s realization for the past several years.

Currently, our participants and the general public only receive information on street drug composition from the medical examiner’s overdose death reports, or occasionally when law enforcement agencies release information about drug seizures. Real-time, accurate information on street-level drug composition (rather than inferring from post-mortem toxicology or large-scale seizures well up the chain of supply) will allow people who use drugs to better understand the composition of the substances they consume and allow public health officials to provide reliable information on the current drug landscape.

  • Here are a few details so far:
    We are using two different forms of spectrometry – infrared and high pressure mass – to test every sample brought to us. Each sample will be checked first by the Bruker Alpha II (infrared) and then by the MX908 (high pressure mass).
  • After spectrometry testing, each sample will be evaluated with fentanyl test strips—we will amplify anything we learn about the strips to our harm reduction community.
  • We can test substances themselves and residue, syringes, cottons, baggies, etc.
  • This checking project is not exclusively checking for opioids.
  • As with all our efforts, the ACDC-RT service is anonymous!
  • It’s an imperfect process—there are user error risks & a few holes in the technology. It will be a learning process & a little bit of an art. It will not give us finite, definitive, take-it-to-the-bank results on every sample.
  • We launched the beta phase of the project on February 6, 2019. In this phase, we will be using the MX908 and fentanyl test strips. In early March, we will add the Alpha II to the array of triangulated technologies.
  • Participants can come to our drop-in hours on Wednesdays 4-6p @ 3110 W Taylor with samples for real time & NON-DESTRUCTIVE testing.
  • Once we get more experience under our belt, the spectrometers will be at designated van sites (locations to be announced in March).
  • Nothing about our project will provide special legal protections or change the fact that drug possession is illegal.

We view overdose in Chicago as a byproduct of institutionalized racial violence, a view confirmed by fatality data that show a bigger overdose death burden in Black & African-American communities. The ACDC-RT project will highlight the need to #reframetheblame and is a component of our overdose prevention expansion initiative. The initiative addresses institutional racism and structural violence by focusing on community care and resilience and preventing the trauma of avoidable overdose deaths. By partnering with people who use drugs to check them and gather subjective use experience with them, we will expand the ways that can care for ourselves and our communities.

This project will be a heavy lift & we are indebted to our friends & partners. Specifically, we appreciate our city (Chicago Department of Public Health) , state (Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and federal partners; Bruker & 908 Devices for putting clever folx on the task of tailoring their products to our needs; Michael Gilbert (both for advice and for the project name); Eliza Wheeler, Dan Ciccarone & Bay Area folx for advice and lessons learned from their drug checking project; fentanyl drug checking pioneers Tino Fuentes, Jess Tilley, Louise Beale Vincent, Van Asher; broad drug checking pioneers (like our local DanceSafe friend Loki Averro); our colleagues at The Loop and British Columbia Centre on Substance Use who have been so generous with their time and advice; Traci Green & Sarah Mackin for agreeing to roll our projects out at about the same time using about the same practices so we will have good info to compare; Steven Aks for helping Dan’s idea evolve; Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar for taking it seriously during the final funding push. #BIGGLOVE