British Columbia

Beware the brown acid: New guide advises music festival organizers to check drugs for safety

Ever since 1969 when Wavy Gravy told the crowd at Woodstock to beware the brown acid there's no hiding the fact that people at music festivals use drugs. Lots of illegal drugs.

"We got some funding from the Ministry of Health and we set out to put something together...on drug-checking."

Drug Checking at Music Festivals is a 60 page how-to guide published by the B.C. government. (ANKORS)

Ever since 1969 when Wavy Gravy told the crowd at Woodstock to beware the brown acid there's no hiding the fact that people at music festivals use drugs.

The B.C. Ministry of Health has released a 'how-to' guide for festival organizers called Drug Checking at Music Festivals.

"We got some funding from the Ministry of Health and we set out to put something together so people could start a drug-checking service, but also pair it with all the other really integral services that go with it," said guide co-author Chloe Sage.

The 60-page document covers everything from quick techniques to detect certain drugs to the legality of running a drug- checking tent.

According to the guide, festival-goers can go to a drug-checking tent for basic drug identification.

Sage developed her expertise running a harm reduction and drug-checking tent at the annual Shambhala Festival in Salmo, B.C., one of the biggest raves in the country.

A drug information and warning board posted at a music festival. (Ankor)

She says the main theme of the guide is that festival organizers need to focus on harm reduction as much as the drug-checking component.

"People need to be offering other harm reduction services — supplies including ear plugs and safer snorting straws and condoms and lubes and information about safer sex," she said. "Also information about all the different drugs and their effects. That's one of the most important right up-front things that we put in the guide."

There are limitations, though, to the scope of actual drug-checking that can be done on-site at festivals. Currently there is no way to check for fentanyl, which is increasingly showing up in all kinds of street drugs, and responsible for a huge increase in drug overdose deaths. Earlier this year fentanyl was declared a public health emergency in B.C.with the province's chief medical health officer predicting 800 fentanyl related deaths by the end of the year.

"We can't tell them everything that's in their drugs," says Sage. "We can tell them a misrepresented drug, not the purity or quality of the drugs."

The guide is available free online.

With files from Daybreak South and Bob Keating