Naloxone ban at music festival could cost lives, Ottawa woman fears

An Ottawa woman says she's concerned an upcoming Ontario music festival's decision to ban naloxone at the event could cost lives.

WayHome says festivalgoers can't bring opioid antidote to July event

WayHome music festival officials have told festivalgoers to leave both drug test kits and naloxone at home. (CBC)


  • After this story was published, WayHome sent a statement about festivalgoers and naloxone.
  • The festival said it is not equipped to test for other substances in the naloxone kits at the gates.
  • The festival said roving teams and fixed sites will have deployable naloxone kits.

An Ottawa woman says she's concerned an upcoming Ontario music festival's decision to ban naloxone at the event could cost lives. 

Naloxone is a potentially life-saving opioid antidote that comes in either injectable or nasal spray form.

WayHome Music & Arts is a weekend-long music bash happening the last week of July at a campground north of Toronto. The festival's website does not explicitly state that no naloxone kits will be allowed, but when Maegan Mason asked if she could bring hers, she was told no. 

"I really assumed I would be all right to bring it," she said.

Maegan Mason said a scary experience of helping an overdose victim inspired her to get naloxone training. (Submitted by Maegan Mason)
Mason, who is trained in first aid and administering naloxone, said the festival didn't fully explain why, by disallowing naloxone, it's lumping the antidote in with what it classifies as "drug paraphernalia."

An email from organizers to Mason said their medical team was "well aware" of naloxone, but attendees are forbidden to bring it onto event grounds. 

"I was a little bit surprised. This is life-saving medication," Mason said.

WayHome organizers refused to respond to questions from CBC News about their policy on naloxone.

Opioid overdoses on the rise in Ontario

With an average of two opioid-related deaths in Ontario every day, public health officials have been working to familiarize people with the signs of an overdose. 

In Ottawa alone, drug overdoses accounted for some 700 emergency room visits in the first half of 2017.

"Festivalgoers who choose to use drugs should remember to carry naloxone," said Ashley Brambles, a project officer at Ottawa Public Health.

Kits such as this one are handed out to eligible patients at high risk of overdose. An injection of naloxone can prevent death due to a heroin, morphine or fentanyl overdose. (Monty Kruger/CBC)
Both syringe and nasal spray kits have been made available to the public for free.

Many summer music festivals including Escapade in Ottawa and Shambhala in British Columbia encourage festivalgoers to bring drug test kits and naloxone with them.

Websites for Ottawa Bluesfest and Osheaga also forbid "drug paraphernalia," but don't make it clear whether that includes naloxone kits.

Bluesfest spokesperson Joe Reilly said the festival consulted Ottawa Public Health about it, and decided to allow it.

"There is no risk if naloxone is injected by accident so we didn't see any harm in allowing people to bring it on site. There were no public safety reasons to not allow it; in fact, there were public safety reasons to do it."

'Perpetuating ignorance'

Mason, who said she witnessed someone overdose last year at Osheaga, said even with the presence of paramedics it's nearly impossible for them to reach people at the centre of large crowds, so allowing other festivalgoers to carry naloxone could save lives.

No matter what precautions are taken, there are going to be drugs.- Maegan Mason

"You're perpetuating ignorance," she said of WayHome's approach. "No matter what precautions are taken, there are going to be drugs. Even just allowing the nasal spray is a step towards making a better festival."

Mason is frustrated some festival organizers appear to be conflating drugs with antidotes that could save lives.

"It doesn't matter whether you're doing drugs or if you've never touched them in your entire life. It's all about this community of people that are together for four days and what can we do to make it the best time possible, so that no one has any risk of ruining their weekend or worst case scenario, having a fatal incident."