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Drugs at Montreal’s music festivals: is prevention enough?

A crowd of thousands at last year's Osheaga festival, August 4, 2014.
A crowd of thousands at last year's Osheaga festival, August 4, 2014. Aalia Adam/Global News

MONTREAL – As the city gears up for three weekends of huge music festivals, a debate is continuing about the best strategy to deal with festival-goers who choose to take drugs.

Is it better to send in the police, or the paramedics?

Evenko, who promotes both Osheaga and electronic music festival île Soniq, told Global News it is committed to focus on “prevention, detection and intervention” at this year’s events.

READ MORE: More than a hundred detained for drugs at Île Soniq music festival

île Soniq featured a strong police presence last year.

Despite that, over 100 people were arrested, mostly for drug offences.

Evenko said they could not discuss their strategy for this year.

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But the organization did send Global News a statement outlining some of the drug safety measures they have put in place, including “search at the entrance, presence of a pharmacist trained to identify drugs, presence of paramedical and medical personnel, rest areas, preventative messages before and during the festival.”

According to GRIP, a Montreal non-profit focused on reducing harm from drug use, festivals should put more energy into preventing festival-goers from getting into trouble – rather than simply searching for drugs at the entrance.

WATCH: Dozens arrested for drugs at Ile Soniq

“It’s certain that illegal drugs will be present at these music festivals,” said GRIP educator Jessica Turmel.

“Prohibition doesn’t work.”

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She said festivals like île Soniq and Osheaga have a responsibility to do more to ensure that their crowds stay safe – even offering a drug testing service to let patrons know if their illicit drugs are safe.

According to Turmel, this has been a successful strategy in reducing drug-related harm at festivals in Europe.

It’s an idea that’s starting to take hold in Canada with Toronto’s Veld Music Festival instituting on-site testing this year after two people died at the festival’s 2014 edition.

There’s no word yet if any of the Montreal festivals are planning to implement the program.

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