Music festivals step up measures to prevent opioid overdose

Northern Ontario music festivals are bringing in some unconventional methods to try to curb potential opioid overdoses.

'Chill Zone' provides a safe space to come down from high, other volunteers carry Naloxone antidote on hand

Up Here festival goers in 2015. The Sudbury, Ont. festival has piloted a 'Chill Zone' to try to prevent possible drug overdoses. The area is a quiet, safe spot for people who have consumed drugs to stay and receive medical assistance if necessary. (Evan Bergstra/Up Here Festival Facebook)

Along with setting up tents and sound equipment at Sudbury's Northern Lights Festival, organizer Max Merrifeld is also preparing for potential drug overdoses.

"It hasn't really been an issue for us, but we're also aware it's a rising issue and it sometimes appears where you don't expect it to," he says.

Merrifield says first aid responders will be on site if people need assistance.

Opioid overdoses at music festivals across Canada have led other organizers to bring about unconventional methods to deal with the problem.

At the Shambhala Music Festival in B.C., people can get their drugs tested for opioids before consuming them. During the recent Ottawa Escapade music festival, police set up a "drug amnesty" box for people to dump their drugs, no questions asked. 

'Chill Zone' allows festival-goers to come down from highs safely

Festival organizers in northern Ontario are taking note and coming up with their own plans to make sure drug overdoses don't occur.

"We don't have our blinders on, and we're not going to pretend this doesn't exist here," says Up Here festival co-founder Christian Pelletier.

In its third year, Pelletier says the Up Here festival wants to focus energy on reducing the harm of drugs, rather than trying to ban them.

One idea the festival piloted last year was a 'Chill Zone,' a quiet place for people who have taken drugs to go if they need.

"If you're feeling like you're coming down off some drug and you just need to be in an environment where you've got someone who is there with you, making sure you're hydrated and have the services that you need," he says.

Pelletier says the festival isn't ruling out other creative solutions for this year.

Naloxone kits on hand

Meanwhile, organizers with the camping and music festival River and Sky say this year they hope to train volunteers to administer naloxone, the lifesaving antidote for opioid overdoses.

While the festival, in the remote area of Field, Ont. is usually more concerned with people hurting themselves camping, organizer Lara Bradley says they're trying to be proactive about potential drug issues.

"There's been a lot of talk this year about overdoses throughout Canada," she says. "We don't think our audience has a high risk, but we want to be ready should the worst happen."

Free naloxone kits can be picked up at participating pharmacies.

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About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or


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