A drug analysis service at festivals in Montreal

A drug analysis service at festivals in Montreal

Since the beginning of the year in Montreal, an organization has been offering a drug analysis service. drug analysis on the sidelines of music festivals and raves.

Despite the excavations and their prohibition, illegal drug use is a reality at festivals.

After years of demanding it, the Psychosocial Research and Intervention Group (GRIP) obtained an exemption from Health Canada to analyze substances using a spectrometer. The goal: to increase consumer safety and avoid overdoses at festivals.

It's always a concern, because I have a lot of x27;friends who have had problems with fentanyl. So I think that service is something that should be done more often.

This is explained by Judith (fictitious name). She is sitting in the back of the GRIP van, converted into a mobile laboratory.

The vehicle is parked a few steps from the entrance to the site. ;Osheaga. Judith and her friend Sarah (fictitious name) have come to have the cocaine they plan to use analyzed.

A small sample of the substance is taken and placed on a spectrometer. Thanks to this new instrument, GRIP can precisely determine the composition of a drug by comparing it with an extensive library of computer data.

After a few minutes, the results are display: The analyzed cocaine sample contains lidocaine, a painkiller. It is a cutting agent that is still common in cocaine, notes Roxanne Hallal, coordinator of GRIP's substance analysis service.

GRIP's mobile substance analysis service was installed for a few days at Parc Jean-Drapeau, on the sidelines of the Osheaga festival.

Analysis with a spectrometer still has its limits. That doesn't mean it's sure that's only what's in there, because anything below 5% you can't see, adds- she.

Since the beginning of the year, GRIP has offered drug analysis services in a dozen festive events in Montreal.

For the months of April and As of May 2022, 83 drug samples have been analyzed by the agency. GRIP reports that 24 MDMA samples were analyzed, but 50% of them did not contain MDMA. One sample contained methamphetamine, another contained N-ethylpentylone and 10 samples contained MDA.

MDMA: Often called ecstasy.

MDA: A substance similar to MDMA, but the effects are more hallucinogenic and last longer long.

N-ethylpentylone: ​​A member of the family of substances sometimes referred to as bath salts.

In Quebec, over the past year, six organizations have obtained an exemption from Health Canada to analyze consumer drugs. Most of these services are offered in supervised consumption centers in Montreal. This exemption makes it possible to manipulate an illegal substance in order to analyze it, give it back to the consumer or destroy it if the latter does not wish to keep it.

According to Health Canada, centers can be established in areas where there is a public health need related to drug overdoses and can address short-term or long-term needs.

The spectrometer cost just over $50,000. It can determine the composition of hundreds of substances.

Offering this service in a festive environment has been requested by festival-goers and industry stakeholders for years, explains Magali Boudon, Executive Director of GRIP.

“There has been a tendency, especially with the overdose crisis, to forget about this consumer population. It's so recreational and once in a while, that they're much less aware of what's going on in the consumer market. »

— Magali Boudon, Director General of GRIP

They have less knowledge of substances, it can be a danger in these cases for a person in his risk taking.

The question is delicate for the organizers of festivals. Illegal drugs are frequently consumed during these events, despite the searches and their ban.

Nicolas Cournoyer, vice-president of public affairs and social responsibility for Piknic Electronik and Igloofest, admits that drug use is a reality in the electronic music world.

It exists, it is a reality. After that, it's what we do to make sure we're proactive about […] people [having] the best experience possible.

< p class="e-p">For several years, Igloofest and Piknic Electronik have collaborated with GRIP to offer an information and support service to festival-goers who use illicit substances.

For At the moment, Nicolas Cournoyer says he is reluctant to offer a drug analysis service within the Piknic Electronik site itself this summer.

The interior of the GRIP van has been transformed into a mobile laboratory.

There is a paradox, he explains. The GRIP exemption is for the analysis of the substance, but the substance as such is still illegal.

The GRIP analysis van will still be present at least once this summer, outside the fences of the event.

Montreal Pride organizers see things differently. The GRIP analysis van will be present on the esplanade of the Olympic stadium, as part of the festivities, on August 7th.

Montreal Pride executive director Simon Gamache says the pandemic has been difficult for many members of the LGBTQIA+ community who have lost loved ones to overdoses. There was consumption, full of public health issues, he explains. He believes that substance analysis is one more step in preventing risks.

Montreal Public Health reports an increase in overdoses over the past year. However, it is impossible to count interventions related solely to festive events in Montreal.

The fear of fentanyl is still present, according to Stéphane Smith, spokesperson for Urgences-Santé.

“Fentanyl was often associated with street drugs or the itinerant. But now, we see this drug much more in Monsieur and Madame Tout-le-Monde. »

— Stéphane Smith, spokesperson at Urgences-Santé

A fear shared by family doctor Marie-Ève ​​Morin, who works in mental health and addiction. Since 2017, his organization Projet Caméléon has been working with various festivals to reduce harm. Project Chameleon uses colorimetry to analyze festival-goers' drugs: a less expensive, but sometimes less precise technique than a spectrometer.

Drug analysis does not increase the consumption, but decreases it, she argues. When we have a person in front of us who has just bought 10 speed and we say to him: “There are traces of fentanyl in there”, [he] does not le[s] will not consume.

This year, his team received the approval of the Ministry of Health and Social Services of Quebec to legally carry out the analysis of substances at the Eclipse festival which took place at the end of July in Outaouais.

Substance analysis is becoming a way of establishing a dialogue with consumers.

< p class="e-p">A way to avoid unpleasant surprises and reduce health risks for consumers.

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