Health Canada

Drug Checking Technology Challenge

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The results are in!

The winner has been announced!

Informing through innovation

We have launched a challenge to improve on drug checking technology to allow the community of people who use drugs and those who support them to make more informed decisions based on the composition of a drug and to reduce harm.


The Drug Checking Technology Challenge launched in October 2018 by Impact Canada and Health Canada

Drug checking allows people to make informed choices

Drug checking is a harm reduction measure where people have their drugs tested to find out what's in them, including if they contain toxic substances or potent drugs like fentanyl.

A pilot drug checking program conducted by Insite in Vancouver B.C. is using test strips and other technology to identify fentanyl in illegal drugs. The pilot study observed that when people knew their drugs contained fentanyl, they were 10 times more likely to reduce the dose. This could reduce their risk of an overdose.

Another study carried out by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health also found that when people knew that their drugs contained fentanyl, they were more likely to change their behaviour.

An unpredictable illegal drug supply

Illegal drugs are unpredictable, with the dose, quality, and composition unknown and inconsistent between batches. Since 2016, fentanyl or fentanyl analogues are increasingly present in illegal drugs in Canada. From January to September 2017, 72% of apparent accidental opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues, compared to 55% in 2016. Evidence suggests that people who use drugs often do not know whether or not fentanyl is present. It cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted.

Drug checking technologies come in different forms, with varying levels of reliability, and variable results that may require specialized training to interpret correctly.

What we hope to achieve with this challenge

We hope a technology challenge will encourage innovation that would allow people to more accurately determine the risks associated with drugs they consider taking, in order to provide them with the opportunity to make an informed decision about:

Harm reduction

Measures that reduce the negative effects of drugs and substances on individuals and communities, without requiring abstinence. Learn More →

The opioid crisis

Canada is in the midst of a crisis. The number of overdoses and deaths caused by opioids, including fentanyl, has risen sharply and continues to rise. In 2016, there were more than 2,800 suspected opioid-related deaths in Canada and in 2017, there were nearly 4,000 Canadian lives lost. Governments, non-government organizations, health and public safety professionals, and Canadians across the country have been responding to this crisis in an effort to save lives.

The Government of Canada is coordinating a whole-of-government approach that is grounded in compassion, collaboration, and evidence. Key actions include:

  • Streamlining the application process for supervised consumption sites
  • Making naloxone, a life-saving medication that can stop or reverse an opioid overdose, available without prescription
  • Supporting the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act that came into force on May 4, 2017, which provides some legal protection for individuals who seek emergency help during an overdose

For More Information on the Opioid Crisis

Get help with problematic substance use

Are you or someone you care about struggling with problematic substance use? Help is available, whether you need it for yourself, a friend or a family member.

Challenge details

Who can apply

Open to any for-profit and not-for-profit organizations such as companies, industry associations, Indigenous organizations and research associations, as well as post-secondary institutions.


  • Up to 10 Semi-Finalists will receive an estimated prize of $25,000 to further develop their prototypes.
  • Up to 5 Semi-Finalists will receive an estimated prize of $100,000 to pilot their prototypes.
  • A grand prize winner will receive an estimated prize of $1,000,000 to further develop and build their product.

Key Dates

  • Challenge Launch: October 2nd, 2018
  • Application Deadline: February 1st,  2019
  • First Selection Phase - Semi-Finalists Announced: April 2019
  • Incubation Period: April to September 2019
  • Second Selection Phase - Finalists Announced: December 2019
  • Pilot-Phase: January 2020 to December 2020
  • Grand Prize Announced: Spring 2021

Important resources