The Big Valley Jamboree is celebrating 25 years of country music, and this year, it is introducing a new policy allowing attendees to bring their own naloxone kits.
Organizer Mike Anderson said that in the past, only on-site medical staff were allowed to carry the potentially life-saving antidote to an opioid overdose.
READ MORE: Fentanyl 101 – The facts and dangers
“We want to make sure everyone is safe. When we meet with our emergency service partners, we discuss items like this, and we decided this was in the best interests of keeping everyone safe,” he said of this year’s decision.
Attendees like Dana Haldenby, who has been to the Jamboree before, said there is a party atmosphere, which includes drugs, at the festival.
“It depends on what areas you went to. We stayed away from some of them but there are some that go around,” she said.
Concertgoer Allison Pon said she often sees the consequences of people drinking or doing too many drugs.
“I just feel like there’s always a lot of people wandering around, falling down over here,” she said.
There have been 176 fentanyl-related deaths in the province from January to May of 2017. In the past few years, fentanyl-related deaths have risen from 127 in 2014 to 363 in 2016.
Dr. Joanna Oda, medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services (AHS), said music festivals, along with other types of festivals, can increase the risk of an overdose.
“Things like not getting enough water, being out in the heat, maybe using other drugs, which includes things like alcohol,” she said.
AHS has provided recommendations to festivals to try and reduce the risk of an opioid overdose.
“We’ve advised music festivals to do a variety of things that include distributing health promotion materials, to provide a little bit of education about some of those increased risks I just mentioned, and encourage their attendees to pick up take-home naloxone kits, the antidote to opioid overdoses, and bring those to areas where they might be using or planning on using,” Oda said.
However, not all festivals are abiding – the Chasing Summer Festival in Calgary is not permitting guests to carry their own naloxone kits within festival grounds.
“If a fan brings a kit with them, they will be able to store it in the medical facility on-site and collect it again when they leave the festival,” Colin Mathie, director of health and safety for Chasing Summer, said in a statement emailed to Global News.
Anderson said there have not been many alcohol- or drug-related issues at the festival in the past, and at this point, it’s unclear what impact the policy will have.
“We don’t know how it’s going to affect things. We want people to have the option to be safe. If they choose to have that kit on-site, so be it,” he said.
He also said he could not comment on whether the festival will carry the policy forward to next year.
Attendee Taylor Kowalsky said the new policy is a good one.
“I think that’ll prevent a lot of people from overdosing. As much as we want to say it doesn’t happen, it does.”
Naloxone is available for free at Alberta pharmacies without a prescription.