Ontario music festival WayHome revises policy on attendees bringing naloxone

Arcade Fire take the main stage at WayHome Music and Arts perform for fans on Saturday, July 23, 2016. The Canadian Press / WayHome Music & Arts Festival

TORONTO – An Ontario music festival has reversed a policy that would have banned attendees from bringing their own injectable naloxone kits, saying patrons will be able to trade syringes of the opioid overdose antidote for a nasal spray that has the same effect.

The WayHome Music and Arts Festival, taking place near Barrie, Ont., this weekend, says it changed its policy after hearing concerns from those who planned to attend.

Naloxone is an antidote to the powerful opioid fentanyl, a drug responsible for a growing number of overdose-related deaths. Fentanyl is sometimes found mixed with other drugs like cocaine.

WayHome’s previous policy didn’t allow attendees to bring their own naloxone-containing syringes at all. Instead, organizers said medical staff on site would be the only people with the antidote.

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With the change in rules, attendees will now be able to trade their naloxone kits for Narcan, a nasal spray version of the antidote.

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“In an effort to meet the concerns of those in possession of injectable naloxone kits, we will now be offering the spray in exchange for the injectable alternative at the gate,” festival spokesman Todd Jenereaux said Tuesday.

Ottawa resident Maegan Mason was one of the attendees who had been concerned about WayHome’s earlier position. She said she was in contact with the festival for the last week and was told she wouldn’t be allowed to bring her injectable naloxone kit.

On Tuesday, she said she was ecstatic to hear that the policy had changed.

“It’s made my weekend feel a lot safer, and I have a big weight lifted off my shoulders,” said Mason.

The 19-year-old said the earlier policy had left her concerned that someone experiencing an overdose wouldn’t be able to find a medical professional in time whilst in a crowd of thousands.

“Not only can you not see where the first aid tent or where the medics are, but they can’t see you,” said Mason, who said getting out of a crowd that large could take 15 minutes.

If attendees have their own opioid overdose-reversing kit, they could administer the antidote and then find medical professionals, she said.

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Deanna VandenBroek, a health promoter with the public health department in Peterborough, Ont., said she couldn’t think of a single negative outcome from festival attendees having the opioid overdose antidote themselves, especially because the antidote is harmless even if used when not needed.

“If (naloxone) is only going to be in certain places and held by certain people, it just means that much more time to get it to the person who’s overdosing,” VandenBroek explained.

In certain cases, she said that administering naloxone as soon as possible “could be the difference between life and death.”

WayHome, now entering its third year, is set to start on Friday and will run until Sunday night. The festival in Oro-Medonte, Ont., will feature artists Frank Ocean, Flume, and Imagine Dragons as headliners.

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