Manitoba

'No one is actually taking cocaine in this city': Nurses find meth in majority of party drugs

Essentially none of the cocaine being tested at Winnipeg raves and dance parties is actually cocaine — it's meth.

Project Safe Audience brings harm reduction to Winnipeg raves and dance parties

Basically none of the cocaine being tested at Winnipeg raves and dance parties is actually cocaine, says a nurse who volunteers testing drugs. (CBC)

Essentially none of the cocaine being tested at Winnipeg raves and dance parties is actually cocaine — it's meth. 

A group of nurses called Project Safe Audience has been attending at least one party a month for the last two years, helping people party more safely by testing drugs before people take them. 

"We haven't had a real cocaine test since the start of summer," registered nurse Bryce Koch, co-founder of Project Safe Audience, told CBC's Information Radio. 

"What we're seeing, 90 per cent of the tests we're doing on cocaine is coming back positive for meth. So we're actually thinking no one is actually taking cocaine in the city, it's pretty much all meth," said Koch.

"And the 10 per cent that isn't coming back as cocaine, is actually coming back as something we can't [test]. We're not too sure what it is, because it's not giving us consistent results, and it's not showing up as what it should be expected. Cocaine will show up pretty easily in a cocaine sample, meth will show up pretty easily in a cocaine sample, but there's something there, that we can't really tell what it is." 

Some tablets passed off as MDMA are also coming back as meth, he said. 

He says people are also looking for cocaine that keeps them stimulated for 10 hours. "That's not cocaine, that's meth," Koch said. "And people don't really realize what they're putting in their bodies."

He noted meth is much cheaper than cocaine. 

Still take drugs after testing

People come up to Project Safe Audience before or during an event to get their drugs checked for safety, he said. 

However, some people don't dispose of the drugs after tests show it's not what they paid for. 

"The vast majority are not very happy this is happening. When we tell them that this is meth and not cocaine, they are quite displeased," he said. "But what we've found is, when they do get a positive result for something they don't want, they'll actually change their behaviours about that drug." 

So they might take less of the drug, or be sure to use it in a group for added safety. 

"So it really shows that this drug testing, even though it's not stopping people from taking these substances, is causing people to change their behaviour to be sort of more safe," Koch said. 

Koch is a music lover who was inspired to co-found Project Safe Audience after noticing a lack of harm reduction services at events he was attending. From two volunteers in 2016, they've now expanded and are training health professionals and partygoers. They staffed three events in three days this past Halloween, and are now equipped to help people dealing with drug-induced psychosis. 

"One thing we've been working on is dealing with agitated people, so how to deal with someone who is agitated with out sort of using medication. Showing people how to do better talk therapy, using relaxing techniques to talk with the individual," he said. 

He said if people take a cocaine-sized dose of meth, they're putting themselves at high risk of meth-induced psychosis. 

Frontline workers look at who's most affected by meth addiction and tackle some of the myths around meth psychosis. 2:58

Currently they're not able to test for fentanyl, though the potent opioid hasn't gone away as meth use has taken over the city.

They're trying to raise $50,000 for a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer, a high-end and portable tester that could detect fentanyl among other substances. Koch said it's been used with success at B.C.'s Shambhala electronic music festival.

"I personally would like to have it by next summer, so for before the big festival season starts, that's kind of my goal," he said. "But we'll see how it goes when we officially launch the crowd-funding campaign."