The Evolve Festival will become the first music event in Nova Scotia to offer free drug testing kits for concertgoers this weekend.

The three-day Evolve Music and Awareness Festival has been attracting local and international performers to the Antigonish area since 2000. In previous years, drug use has put stress on the limited number of local emergency responders.

Jonas Colter, the festival producer with Evolve, said drugs are expected and giving attendees the chance to be more aware of what they're using is part of a harm reduction mandate. 

"Last year we had, over three days, six ambulances were sent — about two per day. Three of them were kids who had done a drug that wasn't the drug that they thought that it was," Colter said, adding that reducing medical emergencies will also ease up on ambulance services. 

The new tests are capable of analyzing LSD, MDMA and speed. 

After becoming aware of bath salts a few years ago, Colter said he's been working on a solution to reduce health risks to concertgoers.

Consumer awareness

Colter said no one has died from a drug overdose at Evolve, but overdoses have happened at other festivals in North America.

"I'm assuming that if they bring it themselves, hopefully they're getting the drugs from someone they semi-trust," he said.

"When you're buying it at a festival, from a stranger, you really don't know what you're getting."

If a festival attendee wants their drugs to be tested, they can submit a small sample to festival staff. A primary and secondary litmus test will determine the chemical makeup. 

Colter said staff will be providing the facts and not making recommendations. 

"It's a matter of not telling the person they've got a good drug or a bad drug. It's a matter of giving them the information … especially in terms of when it is something toxic," he said.

Colter said he's spoken to organizers from other festivals who have used the same kits and have had success. He said Evolve organizers hope to learn about what drugs are out there, and plan to share that information. 

"Probably a lot of these drug dealers are from the Maritimes," he said. "I think the knowledge we're going to receive, we're going to also share with other local festivals."