Manitoba

Nurses find meth in cocaine at Winnipeg raves

A nurse who runs a program that tests drugs at Winnipeg raves in an effort to make the dance parties safer says the results sometimes surprise users.

Project Safe Audience helps keep electronic music dance parties as safe as possible

A group of Winnipeg nurses has been providing harm reduction services at city raves since 2016. (CBC)

A nurse who runs a program that tests drugs at Winnipeg raves in an effort to make the dance parties safer says the results sometimes surprise users.

The drugs are cut with other substances and often it's meth, Bryce Koch says.

"So a lot of people are inadvertently consuming methamphetamine and not actually realizing it, and to the average user, they might not be able to tell the difference."

Project Safe Audience, which was started by Koch and another nursing student as a school project in 2016, aims to mitigate the risks that can come with electronic dance music events, which often include the use of illicit drugs, sex without protection and possible hearing loss from loud music.

"I was seeing friends and acquaintances of mine who I've known for years partake in risky behaviour," said Koch, who is now a registered nurse who works in Seven Oaks Hospital's emergency room.

"I wanted to help the community that I grew up in."

Koch and fellow nursing student Joseph Keilty set up at their first rave in Winnipeg on Halloween in 2016, handing out condoms, ear plugs and harm reduction information.

Koch first saw the benefits of harm reduction while volunteering in the medical tent at the Shambhala Music Festival in B.C. (CBC)

They came up with the idea while taking a community health development class in their last year of nursing school and modelled it after the harm reduction strategy Koch first saw in action while volunteering in the medical tent at the Shambhala Music Festival in B.C.

"They have a really strong medical team," Koch said of the B.C.-based festival. "Because of that, they've actually been able to mitigate a lot of risk that come with these sort of substances."

More services

Since that first rave they have recruited another five people, each with a different specialization, Koch said.

The extra help has allowed them to add services, including the drug testing.

They're finding roughly 75 per cent of the cocaine they test has something else in it, he said.

Sometimes they can't identify the drug, but often it's been mixed with methamphetamine, Koch said.

Koch says Project Safe Audience finds roughly 75 per cent of the cocaine they test at Winnipeg raves has something else in it, often meth. (Shutterstock)

The crew also carries and is trained to use naloxone to treat opioid overdoses.

Koch designed the naloxone program and has held two training sessions at which he's taught 120 others how to use the antidote.

They offer drug disposal services, so users can safely dispose of drugs that they find aren't what they thought they were.

"If you don't offer the safe disposal services, what happens is sometimes people pass them off to the next person and try to sell them as the original substance," Koch said. "So by offering these sort of disposal services, you kind of prevent the drugs from re-entering the flow of drugs in these areas."

Project Safe Audience has Naloxone kits on site at raves. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

They've also added a safe space at their events that gives those having bad trips a place to calm down, Koch said.

"If someone's having a difficult experience, they can come back and hang with us in a quiet environment," he said. "It's a safe environment where they can deal with some of the processes that are going on in their heads."

As well as offering harm reduction programs, the nurses offer resources and rehab services for those at raves looking for help getting off of drugs.

'I would be doing this anyway'

Project Safe Audience has been involved with 12 different raves since 2016 and Koch said they don't plan to slow down.

Aside from some small donations received at a few of the events, so far all the work has been self-funded, something that doesn't seem to bother Koch.

"I would be doing this anyway — this is a community I very much care about," he said.

"This whole program has helped me expand my nursing practice and understand the health risks that are present in Manitoba — to me it seems like something this province needs."

With files from Samantha Samson

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