Stacey Lock has been working in the harm reduction tent at Shambhala Music Festival for eight years now, but she’s never seen the party scene like this before. According to her the province-wide fentanyl emergency has everyone on edge, including the festival’s organizers.
“It’s really affecting the party scene because it’s changing the climate. It’s getting sketchy. Not too long ago it felt like you could know what you were doing and if you didn’t know we could tell you,” Lock, who is the festival’s harm reduction director, told the Star.
“Now we’ve got chemists coming up with designer, black market drugs and half the time we have no idea what we’re looking at. We have to do research on the fly.”
The biggest problem: they can’t test for fentanyl.
“Right now it’s being cut into things like E or coke or any kind of party drug. Even if a little speck gets in there and you’re not an opiate user you could overdose very, very quickly.”
And it’s not even the worst drug out there — Chinese import W-18 is also starting to make an appearance, with seizures reported in Vancouver and elsewhere, and it’s reported to have 1,000 times the potency of morphine.
“Because of the B.C. state of emergency and all the deaths that have been occurring, we felt the need to bump up our services and educate people.”
Shambhala already has a six-pronged approach to harm reduction, with an ambitious medical and sexual health team, a “sanctuary” for those having a bad trip and a female-only area to help prevent sexual assaults. But Lock said this year’s situation has inspired them to up their game even further.
That’s why the festival is crowd-funding for a mass spectrometer, a $250,000 machine capable of testing drugs more thoroughly than their current equipment, but it won’t be in action until at least next year.
“And the machine will be at ANKORS year-round, so Shambhala will have it for five days and Nelson will have it for the rest of the year. It’s going to be available there four days a week for residents to test their drugs.”
The festival has looked into provincial funding but has been unsuccessful. They’re going to keep crowd-funding to purchase the machine until they reach their goal.
“It takes time to calibrate all the drugs in order to be able to test for it. We’re also going to need lab technicians, but already we’ve had so many people contact us to say they can run these machines and help.”
But testing your drugs is only one aspect of staying safe, according to Lock.
“First of all, simple party tip is to test-drive your drugs. Start small because you can dose up but you can’t dose down. Stick with the buddy system, and if your friend goes down, artificial respiration is your most important tool.”
She said their volunteers have been trained with Nalaxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdose.
“We’re going to train first responders so they’re on the ground ready. We’re also going to have an SOS number and we’re going to be giving people information about fentanyl at the gate.”
And the stakes are huge.
“Whether you’re personally affected or you have compassion for other people that are vulnerable to overdosing…this is an initiative that can help save lives.”
Their goal is to be “upstream” rather than “crisis-oriented.”
“If we’re upstream and educating and helping people stay safe, then we won’t be dealing so much with crisis intervention and we’ll be saving a lot of heartbreak.”