Drug Checking and Staying Safe at Festivals

June 20, 2019. Article by: Government of B.C.

19% of people who died of overdose in B.C. in 2018 used drugs infrequently or recreationally. People from all walks of life are at risk of overdose, whether they use substances often or on occasion.

A major factor in the overdose crisis in B.C. is the presence of fentanyl and other highly toxic drugs like carfentanil in the drug supply. Even a small amount of fentanyl can cause an overdose. It has been found in substances including cocaine, MDMA, ecstasy, methamphetamine and ketamine, making the drug supply highly toxic and unpredictable.

This means, without drug checking, it is impossible to know what is in a substance. Anyone who uses any drug from the unregulated supply is at risk of an overdose.

Even people using substances for the first time - at an event such as a concert or festival - could be at risk.

To help lower this risk, some festivals offer drug checking and harm reduction services. People attending festivals can use these services to check substances for contaminants such as fentanyl and get information and resources on how to look out for themselves and their friends.

ANKORS is a harm reduction organization based in Nelson B.C. that provides support, outreach and education services. Since 2002, ANKORS has been providing drug checking services at music festivals. One festival it works with, Shambhala, was the first festival in North America to offer drug checking services.  

“Drug checking is really important as it helps people make informed decisions about what they put in their bodies,” says Chloe Sage, ANKORS’ drug checking coordinator, who has seen a huge rise in interest in drug checking services in the last couple years.

 The overdose crisis has really been the impetus for this change. 

Chloe’s job is about helping people stay safe. She provides support, guidance and materials on how people can reduce the risks if they choose to use substances. She helps festival attendees check substances using a range of methods and she says the most important thing people should take with them to festivals is knowledge.

I advise people to research the substances they are thinking about taking and the risks associated with them alone and mixed with other substances.

Chloe highlights that drug checking at festivals is becoming more popular. However, not every festival offers drug checking services. She recommends people attending festivals prepare ahead of time by finding drug checking services in their community.

Fentanyl test strips are available at all supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites in B.C. Other services and organizations offering drug checking in B.C include:

As well as drug checking services, there are other ways to reduce the risk of overdose. Look out for your friends, stick with someone you trust and tell them what you are taking. Start with a small amount, then go slowly. Take online overdose prevention training and carry a naloxone kit. Learn more about how to have a safe festival and  how to identify and respond to an overdose. As Chloe says,

Always remember to take care of each other.