Volunteers tested drugs for first time at Big White music festival | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Volunteers tested drugs for first time at Big White music festival

The Arkells perform at Big White's AltiTunes Music Festival, April 2, 2022.
Image Credit: Big White Ski Resort

There was a drug testing site at the AltiTunes Music Festival at Big White Resort this past weekend, a first for the resort but something that is becoming commonplace at music festivals.

Roughly 4,200 people attended the music festival, Saturday, April 2, in Happy Valley at the Kelowna-area ski resort’s largest-ever event.

Canadian rockers Arkells, the headliners, took to the stage along with Lights, Days of May and DJ Invisible.

READ MORE: Big White's AltiTunes Music Fest returns following year of cancellations

For the first time, health-care volunteers set up a drug checking site and by 8 p.m. more than a dozen samples had been tested, resort senior vice-president Michael Ballingall said.

The volunteers are part of UBC Okanagan's Harm Reduction Team which has drug checking sites in Kelowna and Vernon every week, said team member David Byres, via email. They work with the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, UBC and Interior Health to provide harm reduction services at UBCO's campus and in the community.

Checking drugs for deadly toxins is the best option to prevent fatal overdoses, according to the drug-checking program manager of the B.C. Centre for Substance Use.

The coroners' service says there were a record 2,224 suspected overdose deaths in the province last year, a 26 per cent jump over the previous year.

READ MORE: Scale up B.C. drug-checking programs to save lives: centre on substance use

“We haven’t done a promotion like that since Freeride Days in the summer of 2019. I don’t know in 2019 how standard that was but in dealing with the concert organizers, this is pretty standard stuff now at an outdoor festival, or concert or at a large organized event,” Ballingall said. The concert was delayed last year due to the pandemic.

For the first time, a drug checking site was set up at Big White for concert-goers at AltiTunes Music Festival.
For the first time, a drug checking site was set up at Big White for concert-goers at AltiTunes Music Festival.

St. Johns Ambulance and concert-goes recommended it as well, he said.

“Whatever we need to do to keep people safe, that’s what we’re going to do. For us, it’s all about family and different family members engage in different activities and we just want to make sure if they choose to do so, they do so in the safest possible way," Ballingall said.

He got a rough estimate on the makeup of the audience from talking to concert-goers and estimates approximately 60% were not Big White regulars and with 25% had never been to Big White before.

Ballingall said he is “over the moon” to see how well the concert turned out, adding there were no significant injuries at the event.

“There was a lot of firsts and just to go through the event and it's safe, we’re very much encouraged to repeat it in the summer and the winter,” he said.

 - This story was updated at 12:32 p.m. to provide additional information on the harm reduction team at UBCO.

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