Quebec’s first mobile drug-testing unit gets approved by Health Canada

Oct 8, 2021

Earlier in September, Montreal’s Groupe de recherche et d’intervention psychosociale (GRIP) received an exemption from Health Canada to use its fully equipped drug-testing van to determine the composition of illicit drugs at festivals, raves and other events.

GRIP’s mobile drug-testing unit will be the first of its kind in Quebec.

“It’s a big deal,” said GRIP director Magali Boudon in her interview with the Montreal Gazette. “It’s been a long road. We have been waiting for this exemption for almost a year and a half. We bought our vehicle and overhauled the interior to accommodate our drug analysis service. We recruited our team, and spent many months training people in the use of the different types of analysis we’re offering.”

Notably, GRIP’s drug analysis unit can test drugs using an FTIR spectrometer, which uses infrared beams to identify the chemical composition of a substance, as well as a colorimeter, that measures the absorbance of wavelengths of light of various solutions; and strip tests, which can measure the presence of fentanyl, benzodiazepines and carfentanil.

According to Boudon, the equipment of the mobile testing unit could identify the components of almost any drug ranging from cannabis to GHB and LSD. “It’s rare to find a hard drug we can’t analyze,” she said.

Currently, there are some stationary drug-testing centres, notably at CACTUS Montreal, and the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, however this mobile unit would be the first of its kind in Quebec. GRIP’s drug-testing team includes a co-ordinator, a drug analysis specialist and an intervention worker whose role includes facilitating communication with people who use the service.

The majority of GRIP’s current target demographic consists of 18- to 25-year-old individuals who consume recreational drugs in group settings. Previously, the organization only provided psychosocial counselling and accompaniment to users for years, but in the summer of 2021, the organization was required to provide the overdose-reversal medication naloxone for the first time at a festival.

“Before, that was the type of thing more often used in treating the consumption of opioids in the streets,” Boudon said. In recent years, due to the ongoing opioid crisis, health experts have urged for implementation of more drug-testing services, as drugs have increasingly become adulterated with dangerous substances.

The exemption provided to GRIP by Health Canada allows drug possession inside the organization’s van, and protects both the organization and individuals who come to have their substances tested.

Furthermore, GRIP plans to be present at major festivals and events in Montreal and around Quebec in the spring of 2022. In the meantime, the organization is collaborating with local community groups, including CACTUS Montreal, to promote drug safety.

Although the possession and use of illicit drugs are forbidden at Osheaga and other major festivals and events, they are often brought in or sold by dealers on site, said Boudon.

“They’re not stupid,” said Boudon, referring to event promoters. “They know people are still consuming, and there can be accidents and overdoses. Our analysis service diminishes the risk of overdoses. No promoter wants deaths or accidents at their event.”