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'It's not 20 years ago': Harm reduction advocates call for drug testing at Folk Fest


Some harm reduction advocates are calling on a long-running music festival to start offering drug testing on-site.

The 49th edition of the Winnipeg Folk Festival kicks off on July 11. While music and camping headline the event, for some people, the Folk Fest experience includes using drugs.

However, advocates like Arlene Last-Kolb from Moms Stop the Harm, an organization founded by families impacted by drug-use harms and deaths, said people don’t always know what they’re taking.

“It’s not 20 years ago. This is a whole new world of toxic drugs,” Last-Kolb told CTV News Winnipeg. “So we have a responsibility to keep people safe.”

She said Winnipeg’s toxic drug supply includes deadly substances like fentanyl.

“They’ll purchase a substance they think is one thing, and they’re finding out after they’ve had an incident that there was something else in that,” Last-Kolb explained. “They’re not even consenting to it, so the least we can do is offer them ways to test what they’re taking.”

She and other advocates want Folk Fest to offer attendees drug testing at the Bird’s Hill Park site. She said items like testing strips are readily available and should be put to use by Folk Fest organizers.

“These are things that Folk Fest is better off to have and not need… then to need it and not have it. It’s as simple as that,” she said.

Winnipeg-based Project Safe Audience (PSA) is a harm reduction initiative that originated in Winnipeg’s rave scene. Co-director Jason Zweiban said PSA has done drug testing at smaller festivals in Manitoba, as well as large events like Shambhala in British Columbia.

“We found the drug checking services out there are very well-utilized and it’s a very important service for everyone attending the festival, whether you’re using drugs or not,” Zweiban told CTV News Winnipeg.

Zweiban said while drug-testing supplies can be purchased online or acquired through some organizations, some people don’t expect they’ll take drugs at events. He said the onus is on event organizers to do what they can to keep attendees safe. Top Stories

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