A new drug-testing program in Edmonton aims to save lives in the queer community, but it’s available for anyone.
Spectrum Drug Testing is a free, confidential service that’s legal thanks to an exemption from the federal government.
The Queer and Trans Health Collective, a grassroots health organization formerly known as the Edmonton Men’s Health Collective that’s headquartered downtown, offers the program.
Its staff was recently given an exemption from federal drug laws to allow them to test illegal substances, making them the first in Alberta to be able to offer the service.
“I think it’s an important part of a bigger solution,” said Darren Markland, an intensive-care doctor at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Staff at QTHC can now test for a wide array of substances – from methamphetamines, cocaine and MDMA to novel designer drugs such as 2CB and 2CI, as well as filler opioids fentanyl and carfentanil – at their space at Jasper Avenue and 105 Street.
Being able to offer an array of testing comes at an urgent time, says QTHC harm reduction and program development manager Jess Murray, with a record 179 people in Alberta dying from drug overdoses.
“We want to make sure that when people are using – which they will, whether we like it or not – they’ll be able to get their drugs tested and know what’s in it,” said Murray. “We’ll be able to have a conversation with them and say ‘here’s how you can use more safely and these are the supplies you might need while you’re using those as well.’ Hopefully, this will lead to fewer deaths in our community.”
Markland, who sees people with drug overdoses in his hospital unit, says access to programs like drug-testing is a crucial part of addressing the opioid overdose crisis.
“We’re pulling them back from the brink, but we’re trying to treat poverty and injustice with ventilators and tubes,” he said.
Spectrum Drug Testing is also portable. The health collective is planning to get more devices and staff to make the service available outside its office once they’re allowed to do so.
Murray said their location “is a safe space to land” for anyone wanting to have their drugs tested.
“Everybody that’s here has had experience using substances in the past, and we’re all from the queer community,” she said. “Regardless of where you’re from, what your background is, we’re going to make sure you’re safe and supported in this space.”