Thousands of people across the province and beyond are making their way to the small community of Salmo this week, for the 21st Shambhala Music Festival. And for the 16th year a small non-profit organization will be on site testing attendee’s illicit drugs.
Shambhala started as a small gathering of about 500 people on a farm in 1998. It has since grown to accommodate about 15,000 people with six stages.
While members of the AIDS Network Kootenay Outreach and Support Society, based out of Nelson, have been providing harm-reduction services at the festival all along, this will be the first time they’ll have five spectrometers to test the drugs they come across.
Last year, ANKORS used fentanyl test strips and found 31 substances that contained the powerful opioid, all of them in stimulants.
“It could have been deadly,” said Chloe Sage, ANKORS drug checking co-ordinator.
The spectrometers, one of which was partially crowdfunded to pay for its $42,000 cost, are able to provide more detailed and accurate information about what’s in a substance.
“We’re able to pick out cuts and additives and misrepresented (drugs), all of those things,” Sage said.
The upgrade in testing comes on the heels of the death of a 16-year-old girl at Kelowna’s Center of Gravity Festival on July 27. The young girl had reportedly taken what she believed was ecstasy.
“It’s so tragic,” Sage said. “I so feel for the family. This didn’t have to happen.”
Karmik provided harm-reduction services at this year’s Center of Gravity, but it’s not believed drug testing was offered. A representative was unable to comment on what services they did provide by publication time.
Sage says while providing drug testing at Shambhala has sometimes carried a stigma, their services are starting to be accepted by the mainstream.
Health authorities across B.C. have begun endorsing the service, and Interior Health now provides grant funding to organizations providing drug testing at festivals that fall within its area.
“Because the health authorities have endorsed the drug checking, it’s much easier for festivals to say yes, because they can say it’s coming straight from the health authority,” Sage said.
The BC Centre of Substance Use has partnered with other groups to provide drug testing at the Vancouver Pride Festival and the Electric Love Music Festival near Chilliwack, and ANKORS also tested drugs at Vibrant Music Festival near Invermere.
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