Music festival ODs lead to questions of legalization, regulation of ‘party drugs’

The rash of suspected drug-overdose deaths at music festivals in Canada this summer has public health experts scrambling for solutions. British Columbia’s chief health officer caused a ripple this week following by musing that maybe Canada should look at an experiment in New Zealand that essentially legalized so-called party drugs in hopes regulation would make the events a safer space for those using drugs. Both these approaches are problematic in today’s Canada, but the deaths a week ago, at the the VELD electronic dance music (EDM) event in Toronto and at Boonstock in Penticton, B.C., ought to have refocused the discussion.

If we’re prepared to be very pragmatic and if we’re prepared to accept that we can’t stop people taking drugs, and if we’re prepared to try and go as far as we can to stop the unwanted side effects and the occasional tragic death from a drug, that would be one way of doing it.

Dr. Perry Kendall, British Columbia’s chief health officer

People familiar with the live music scene say it’s tough to get the message out to hard-partying festival-goers. This is especially the case at increasingly mainstream EDM events, which often have high-profile corporate sponsorships and don’t like to acknowledge the open drug use that takes place. Overdoses (ODs) aren’t uncommon, but the quick succession of them this summer made news, with the deaths of a 22-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman who died at the VELD festival and that of a young Alberta woman who died the same weekend of a suspected overdose at B.C.’s Boonstock festival.

Anything that can make drug use safer is something we are interested in.

Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction lead at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control