The Phillips Backyard Weekender music festival drew large crowds to downtown Victoria in July. Island Health praised the organizers for their approach to harm reduction on site to care for patrons who had taken or planned to use drugs. The health authority has released a safe drug use tips list for those attending music festivals this year. Facebook

Island Health takes proactive steps to reduce drug overdoses at music festivals

Tips list added to supports already in place by festival organizers

Island Health has been proactive in its efforts to reduce the number of drug overdoses and fentanyl-related incidents at music festivals on Vancouver Island.

Rather than simply encouraging abstinence, the health authority is acknowledging that people will ingest drugs of various kinds at festivals and other gatherings during summer. As such, it is bolstering the safe drug use strategies engaged in by festival organizers and has released a list of tips for staying safe for people who plan to ingest drugs of any kind.

They include:

• If using, take one drug at a time (don’t mix with alcohol)

• Use with friends and tell them what you’ve taken

• Know the signs of fentanyl overdose: Slow or no breathing; blue lips and fingertips; unresponsive to noise, name or pain; gurgling or snoring sounds, and pinpoint pupils or clammy skin

• Know how to respond: carry Naloxone; call 911 and festival first-aid; clear and open the person’s airway; provide rescue breathing, and administer Naloxone and continue rescue breathing.

Griffin Russell, regional harm reduction co-ordinator with Island Health, said his group reached out to the organizers of all major music festivals this year. They were asked if they were aware of the risks, and to outline the steps being taken to help keep people safe from potentially fatal drug overdoses.

“All of these festivals, in some form or fashion, had some plans in place,” he said, noting that those ranged from setting up harm reduction tents to having medical staff on hand throughout.

Major festivals such as last weekend’s Sunfest and the previous Laketown Rock Festival in the Cowichan Valley, the Tall Tree Festival in Port Renfrew and the Phillips Backyard Weekender in Victoria all had an “incredible amount of support” and were “well prepared” for emergencies, Russell said.

So far, there haven’t been a significant amount of overdoses at festivals this year, he added.

Island Health will be monitoring this weekend’s Five Acre Shaker Music Fest in Port Alberni and next month’s Rifflandia Festival in Victoria as it tries to create a consistent approach to harm reduction at such events. Island Health’s harm reduction strategies and services committee will meet in October to review the festival season as well as the communication of the risks to the public.

“What we [have done] this year will probably look different than what we will do next year,” Russell said.

For more information, contact go to viha.ca/mho/overdose.html.

editor@vicnews.com