Recently there has been a lot of press about festivals banning certain items at their shows. Electric Zoo in New York recently banned camel packs and both Mad Decent Block Party and Hard Summer have banned “Kandi” at their shows, to name a few. This is all done with the intention, as they say, to reduce harm. With all these nonconstructive regulations getting press, it’s nice to know that there are festivals out there that are doing something constructive to keep attendees safe. The Shambhala music and arts festival is one of those shining lights, taking a realistic and genius approach to harm reduction.
Currently, one of the biggest issues with large festivals is drug abuse. There have been deaths due to a bad combination of heat, dehydration, and drug overdoses. Some of these deaths might have been prevented had those unfortunate souls known what drug they were actually taking. The organizers at Shambhala have turned some heads by not trying to deny that drug use happens at their event. The security manager for Shambhala, Shaun Wilson, says “We’re not here to crash parties, We’re here to help people party safe.” which is a completely different approach than what we’re used to when it comes to security, especially given the fact that Shambhala is a festival that doesn’t allow alcohol anywhere on its grounds.
Wilson says that it’s completely unrealistic to try to prevent every single drug from entering the premises, a philosophy that led to a mere 7(!) hospital trips to go with zero deaths over the 5 days Shambhala took place this year.
“We’re not able, in our searches, to go through everybody’s jar of peanut butter and their prescription bottles to see what’s a controlled substance and what’s not.”
Having this attitude towards drug use at the festival also allows an organization called “ANKORS” (AIDS Network Kootenay Outreach and Support Society) to perform on site drug testing. People can openly come to the tent and have their drugs tested to make sure that they have received what they paid for, with no fear of ramifications. Cloe Sage is a volunteer with ANKORS and said that the thing she has noticed is that people are being sold bad drugs by unscrupulous drug dealers. One drug that is making a “comeback” is something called PMMA or paramethoxymethamphetamine. PMMA is what leads to you getting cooked from the inside out and causes death.
“It’s like their thermostat breaks and they keep heating from the inside like a microwave. People have dropped dead from it; that’s why it stopped being popular.”
Ankors performed thousands of tests over the weekend and threw out hundreds of drugs. To make things more uneasy, they even found 91 samples of “mystery substances”. When they were identified, they would put a sign out to let people know which ones they were by identifying marks like “Bag with clubs on it – sold as E – unknown.” or “Green playboy bunny baggie – sold as ketamine – actually methoxetamine.”
People are far less likely to take a drug if it’s not what they paid for. Shambhala has not completely embraced or condoned drug use. They just have their security go after the drug dealers, not the users; trafficking is their main goal.
Being informed is the best way to reduce harm at these massive festivals. Hopefully in the future, event organizers will follow the efforts that Shambhala has taken to reduce harm. We are fortunate enough to have the Conscious Crew at USC events who provide free water and aid to those in need. Even some of our staff volunteers for the Conscious Crew. Be safe out there and get educated. It may end up saving yours or someone else’s life.
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