Drug-checking site opens in Edmonton

Aug 29, 2023

Earlier in August, a new drug-checking site, Spectrum, was launched in Edmonton to allow individuals to analyze drug samples to screen for the presence of dangerous adulterants.

The site employs a Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer which can detect substances including cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA, heroin, and fentanyl. Spectrum was created by the Queer and Trans Health Collective, and is the first physical site in Edmonton to offer a drug-checking service. 

 “We know that people are going to use substances whether we like it or not,” said Jess Murray, the collective’s harm-reduction manager, said in an interview with CBC News. “We just want to make sure that if they are using substances, they know what’s in the substances, they’re able to get supplies for their substances to use them more safely.”

Murray also noted that the portable FTIR spectrometer costs between $50,000 – $60,000, and the test takes about 10 minutes. Subsequently, the team can provide the results to the client in person, by phone, or email.

 Meanwhile, opioid-related overdoses have reached record numbers. According to provincial statistics, in July, Edmonton ambulances responded to 753 overdose calls, compared to 306 responses during the same period in 2022.

“I have never seen so many opiate overdoses and out-of-hospital cardiac arrests as a result of drug poisoning in my entire life, and that’s saying something for a doctor who has worked 20 years in an inner city hospital,” said Dr. Darren Markland, an Edmonton intensive care physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, in his interview with CBC News. Dr. Markland added that up to 30% of the overdose patients in his unit are unidentified because they are found unconscious or dead on the streets.

In an email statement to CBC News, the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said separating people from the toxic, unpredictable illicit drug supply is an important part of preventing opioid-related harms.

In addition, the Alberta government said it encourages people to stop or reduce using deadly and dangerous drugs. “All illicit drugs should be considered dangerous and we discourage their use at any scale,” said Hunter Baril, spokesperson for the Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction. So far, the province’s focus has been on recovery and expansion of detox, treatment, and recovery services.