British Columbia

Shambhala music festival can't test for fentanyl or W18

The Shambhala music festival is one of the few festivals to offer free drug testing to festival goers, but it won't be able to test for illegal drugs like fentanyl or W18.

The music festival is one of few that offers free, no-hassle drug testing but its drug testing is limited

The Shambhala music festival is an annual electronic music festival that is held at the Salmo River Ranch, in the West Kootenay near Nelson, B.C. (CBC)

The Shambhala music festival — an annual electronic music festival held in the first week of August in the West Kootenay — won't be able to test for trace amounts of drugs like fentanyl or W18 — which police have described as 'scary and terrifying' because of how fatal even a small dose can be

Nelson, B.C.-based society, Aids Network Outreach and Support Society (ANKORS) runs a drug testing tent at Shambhala tests for MDMA and 15 other drugs.

The reagents they use can tell whether a drug is what consumers have been told it is or not, but it cannot pick up trace amounts of other drugs. 

"We are generally testing for misrepresentation. If a drug is sold as MDMA but doesn't have any MDMA in it at all, we can tell people that ... but if it is MDMA mixed with something else we cannot," said Chloe Sage, the festival's harm reduction coordinator. 

ANKORS the Nelson, B.C. based society runs the drug testing tent at Shambhala. It tests for MDMA and 15 other drugs. (CBC)

Sage said the reality is scary and they are constantly trying to play catch up. 

"Fentanyl is probably one of the scariest and W18 is  even scarier and I don't think it is the last one we will see either," she said. 

To address the growing concern over fentanyl and W18 this year, outreach teams at the festival will be equipped with the drug, naloxone — a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. 

The drug tests are mostly for misrepresentation of drugs, but a major part of the harm reduction strategy is about education and dosage. (CBC)

Sage says there has been a huge rise in drug misrepresentation and adulterated drugs in the past decade. 

"There is no such thing as pure drugs anymore," she said, which is why a major part of the conversation at the drug testing tents is about education and dosage. 

Last year, there were five hospital transfers at the festival and 13 the year before that.

With files from the CBC's Daybreak South and David French.


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