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How a Sober Partying Movement Emerged From Canada's Opioid Crisis

Party4Health wants to use “partying as a positive social force.”

by Allison Tierney
Aug 15 2018, 2:20pm

Image courtesy of author. 

Did you know you can party without consuming alcohol or other drugs?

That’s what Party4Health, a Vancouver-based organization, wants people to realize and start seeing as normal: sober partying.

“Partying can be part of a healthy lifestyle, you can do it every day—it doesn’t have to be in a bar or a nightclub,” explained Jacques Martiquet, Party4Health’s director and “master dance party facilitator.”

The organization throws parties wherein its attendees make a pact of sobriety at the onset: from bike and hike raves, to silent discos and morning beach parties. Rather than drinking alcohol, partiers sip yerba mate and eat energy bars. And instead of a DJ, they carry a portable speaker system that blasts out anything from Whitney Houston to electronic dance music in public spaces they use to carry out their partying.

A silent disco Party4Health hosted the day before Canada Day saw about 250 attendees who danced their way through Vancouver.

“It was so bizarre, at one point in the party people were cheering so loud you couldn’t hear the music through your headphones,” Martiquet, 22, said.

During the party, Martiquet said they did limbo in an alleyway—if a person succeeded in going under the stick, they got a Canadian maple syrup shot.

Obviously, this is not everyone’s idea of a good time but it is certainly challenging our notions of fun and friendship. (And is maybe inspired a bit by the church of Andrew W.K.)

Vancouver, the city Party4Health was born out of in 2017, is regarded as ground zero of Canada’s opioid crisis. The city has notable issues with fentanyl-laced drugs and high overdose death statistics. It’s also home to a leading harm reduction movement that is referenced across the country and worldwide.

“I think the crisis is magnifying a larger cultural issue, which is disconnection and loneliness, and insufficient opportunities to be a part of communities,” Martiquet said.

Martiquet, who has worked as an emergency medic, said he thinks that sober partying has a place in the larger harm reduction movement.

“Party4Health is not preventing overdoses—it’s preventing people’s motives to want to take substances to feel good, have a good time, connect with other people,” Martiquet, who has volunteered for other harm reduction initiatives, explained.

Martiquet said he believes that sober partying can play a role in the “maintenance of positive mental health and positive emotional stimulation.” With Party4Health, he’s already had attendees of their parties say it’s improved their lives. At the end of one of their events, Martiquet said one of the partiers told him that Party4Health has helped alleviate his issues with depression and suicidal thoughts.

“Partying is the most hidden ally to public health,” Martiquet said. “Right now, it is the enemy of public health—but it’s a hidden gold mine."

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