Ottawa

Escapade organizers on guard against overdoses

Organizers of this weekend's Escapade Festival at Lansdowne Park estimate they're spending about $200,000 on measures to help keep partygoers safe.

Ottawa police to set up 'amnesty box' in attempt to stem flow of drugs into festival site

The bill for security alone at Escapade Festival is more than $100,000, according to an organizer. On top of that, another $100,000 is being spent on measures including water stations, party safety campaigns, and private contracts with safety experts. (Escapade Festival/Facebook)

Organizers of this weekend's Escapade Festival at Lansdowne Park estimate they're spending about $200,000 on measures to help keep partygoers safe.

We want our festival to be as safe as possible.- Ali Shafaee, Escapade Festival 

With cases of overdoses on the rise in Ottawa, the festival is stepping up its campaign to keep attendees safe by hiring extra security, paramedics and other staff to patrol the two-day event. 

Ali Shafaee, the festival's director of partnerships, said as one of the first major music festivals in the capital this summer, Escapade wants to set an example. 

"We want our festival to be as safe as possible," said Shafaee. "We've got a lot of different campaigns that will be on site to get as much messaging across to our festival goers."

Ottawa Hospital's emergency room is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, after seeing an increase in past years of overdose cases during Escapade weekend and other major festivals. In a few cases, patients had to be put on life support, according to two emergency doctors at the Ottawa Hospital who spoke to CBC News.

Drug amnesty

For the first time, Ottawa police will be on hand with what they're calling a "drug amnesty" box where partygoers can dump their drugs, no questions asked. Police say depending on the results, they may set up the box at future festivals.

Also new this year, the festival has hired 20 members of the Canadian Ski Patrol to help out at the festival. The rescue specialists are not only trained to help save people from avalanches, their medical training includes administering naloxone, a life-saving opiate overdose antidote. 

A safety patrol team made up of volunteers will also be roaming the crowds on the lookout for anyone that could be in trouble so they can flag down emergency officials.

Ali Shafaee, Escapade festival's director of partnerships, has been meeting with police, paramedics and Ottawa Public Health to set up a safety plan. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Paramedics have been privately hired and will have all-terrain vehicles so they can get to festival-goers in trouble quickly wherever they are in the crowd.

Paramedics have also converted OC Transpo buses into clinics that will be filled with stretchers, medical supplies and treatment as a way to treat people on-site away from the elements. There will be two triage centres outside the arena and the lawn area along with water stations on festival grounds. 

If they are by themselves...they may not be found in time and may end up dying- Marc-Antoine Deschamps, Ottawa Paramedics

Ottawa Paramedic spokesperson Marc-Antoine Deschamps said it's important for people to seek help as quickly as possible, even if they are treated with naloxone.

He said that in some cases naloxone will not last as long as some drugs. People can go back to feeling perfectly normal, and then suddenly about an hour later overdose again. 

"If they are by themselves at that time, they may not be found in time and may end up dying," said Deschamps.

Ambulances will also be waiting and ready at the event in case anyone needs to be rushed to hospital. 

Festival organizers said they want the festival to set the stage for other major music events this summer and have in place a safety protocol others can follow. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Ottawa hospital's ER preparing 

Ottawa hospital's emergency room is also preparing for a potential surge of patients. 

The challenge with street drugs is that you don't know what's in them. They're often made by a random person in a basement somewhere with a bucket.- ER doctor Andrew Willmore.

ER doctor Andrew Willmore, the medical director for emergency management at the hospital, said they've bolstered staff, medical supplies and antidotes in anticipation of the weekend. That includes making space in the emergency room for extra patients, by moving some to other floors.

"We've up-staffed floors," said Willmore. "Up-staffed the emergency department and we have an on-call mechanism if we need even more staff, they can come in."

Ottawa paramedic spokesperson Marc-Antoine Deschamps said it's important for partygoers to come see paramedics even if they have been given naloxone. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

With festivals like this there is an increased number of young people not aware of the risks of what they're ingesting, says Willmore.

"The challenge with street drugs is that you don't know what's in them," said Willmore. "They're often made by a random person in a basement somewhere with a bucket."

"We're certainly ready for anything that walks through the door," he said.

Ottawa Public Health and other groups will be on site telling people to stick with their friends, keep an eye on on each other, and carry naloxone. If you do use drugs, go slow and take a small test dose.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca

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