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Shambhala Festival Wants to Expand Its Drug-Testing Services to Include Fentanyl

The decision was spurred by British Columbia’s recently-declared public state of emergency.
July 28, 2016, 9:40pm
Photo via Flickr user dustinq

This August 5-8, Shambhala returns to its longtime home at Salmo River Ranch with an artist roster including Boys Noize, Mija, and The Gaslamp Killer. On-point bookings aside, the British Columbian music festival is lauded by harm reduction advocates for its provision of drug-testing services, which singles out the presence of substances including MDMA, cocaine, ketamine, and LSD, but there's one drug that has yet to be identified through testing: fentanyl.

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The opiate drug, which the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates is "80 times as potent as morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin," has been a rising problem in the region for years, but a recent string of overdoses—amounting to 200 deaths within the first three months of 2016—has resulted in a public state of emergency.

Local news outlet Castanet reports that the festival is looking to expand its drug-testing services (performed by ANKORS, or AIDS Network Kootenay Outreach and Support Society) to detect its presence.

"We're always trying to stay on top of the curve when it comes to providing best practices for safety at our music festival and also trying to be a standard for others," Shambhala's harm reduction director, Stacey Lock, told Castanet. "This is kind of our next level attempt at meeting people where they're at and giving them the most sufficient information about substances that they may choose to use."

Speaking to THUMP over email, ANKORS's Chloe Sage says that fentanyl in pure form isn't as much a worry for Shambhala and the dance music community; rather, it's that stimulant drugs such as cocaine are being cut with it. "Fentanyl even in trace amounts laced in another substance can be fatal," she wrote. "This is also what makes it hard to test for. Being a trace amount in a mixed substance takes very sensitive equipment."

She added that staff will be handing out pamphlets informing attendees on fentanyl and signs of an overdose, and that Naxolone, an opioid antagonist used to counter overdoses, will be onsite in case of an emergency.

In order to expand their services to include testing for fentanyl, ANKORS launched a GoFundMe campaign last month to buy a mobile mass spectrometer. So far, it has raised $11,965 of its projected $30,000 goal. If purchased, ANKORS plans on utilizing it year-round from their Nelson office, rather than just once a year at the festival. You can donate here.

In the meantime, "we all need to be vigilant," said Sage. "People really need to start small and wait and cut down on the mixing of substances."