Canadian Music Festivals Still Can’t Test Pills for Fentanyl
Festival season is now in full swing, which means at this very moment there are thousands of people camped out in sweltering heat, surrounded by walls of perpetually full porta-potties, likely buying pills and powders from total strangers, and definitely making decisions of wide-ranging quality.
Party organizers know this and generally don't want people to die, as a few kids seem to every year. So a few festivals are choosing to offer free pill testing, to give these people a better idea of what's in their drugs. In most cases this is carried out by a handful of harm reduction non-profit organizations, using cheap reagent kits that can test for 15 or so different substances.
If you've seen these tests in action at a festival before, you probably know the set-up is pretty simple. They'll drip a little bit of a testing solution onto a sample of your drugs, and see what colour shows up. In some cases they can tell you if it's cut with something else, but mostly it just confirms whether one drug—ecstasy, coke, ketamine, whatever—is actually in there.
Unfortunately this doesn't work for fentanyl, which happens to be the current focus of most drug hysteria in Canada. The drug news outlets describe as "50 times more potent than heroin, and 100 times stronger than morphine" has been causing a record-breaking number of overdose deaths in many parts of the country.
In British Columbia, where the government has declared a public health emergency over fentanyl, drug overdoses across the province are up 74 percent over last year. So far in 2016 a total of 371 people have died, and fentanyl has been detected in 60 percent of cases. The latest numbers from the coroner's service show another small uptick between May to June.
More often fentanyl gets passed off as other opiates, but it's been known to show up in party drugs including MDMA and coke. So it sucks that even the most advanced festival pill testers in the country won't be testing for fentanyl this season.
"It's a shame this summer and it's scary for lots of us," Garrett Crawford of the new-ish harm reduction outfit Karmik, which is testing pills at a few BC festivals this year, told VICE. "A few of us in our organization have lost friends and family members."
Crawford says a close friend of his died a few months ago when fentanyl showed up in what he thought was something else. "It's really heartbreaking for us, but it just reaffirms how important it is to provide harm reduction."
The trouble with fentanyl is it's so potent, so concentrated, that none of the cheap testing offered at festivals can reliably detect it. "One pill will have such a miniscule amount, it's very unlikely you're going to detect that with a reagent kit," said Crawford.
Read the full story by Sarah Berman at Vice