Harm Reduction isn’t just for festivals - it’s a year-round movement. Harm reduction means learning about new ways to keep yourself and your friends safe. It includes things like supplies, information, and policies that help reduce the stigma, risks, and harms that come from potentially risky activities like partying or having sex. Harm reduction means looking out for our own well-being and doing what we can to create a healthy and safe community for everyone. Currently, harm reduction also includes information to assess and mitigate risks that comes with socializing during the COVID 19 pandemic. If you, or someone you know is gathering in whichever way this year, here are a few tips to reduce risk.
2pm Get Supplies and make a plan
If you are having people over or gathering in any way (even smaller socializations!), you should clearly let all guests know ahead of time which measures will be in place, any ventilation measures, and which supplies will be on hand. Purchase hand soap, antibacterial wipes, and hand sanitizers to have throughout the space and clearly indicate any guidelines around vaccination or masks. A critical part of harm reduction is informed consent- allowing folks to know ahead of time what to expect / what not to expect and to make choices for themselves based on all the information. Be sure to make note of everyone who stops by, so that if there is a need for contact tracing, that information can be easily retrieved.
3pm: Check in
Research is showing that the ongoing COVID 19 Pandemic is impacting the mental health of Canadians, which in turn is impacting consumption patterns as people try to navigate so many stressors. If you are sharing your evening with others, and especially if you are going to be consuming alcohol or other substances, it may be helpful to do a check-in with yourself around why you want to indulge and what you hope to get out of the experience (set and setting). Be sure to have plenty of nonalcoholic options on hand to support yourself and/or friends who may be trying to drink less.
On the topic of check-ins, you may want to message your guests and remind them that if they have any potential signs of covid, to stay home (maybe join over zoom?). Community care takes many shapes!
4pm: Do your research
We don’t promote or condemn substance use. We know that some people indulge, despite the risks. Knowledge is power. The more you can learn about what you and any friends you may be sharing the evening with are doing, the better equipped you are to deal with challenging situations. DanceSafe and TripSit both have extremely informative websites and apps to help you assess risk and be more aware of what to expect (and signs that something is off). Alcohol, prescription or recreational drugs, tobacco - NO SUBSTANCE USE COMES WITHOUT RISKS - and things seem particularly risky right now in Western Canada, with COVID and related border closures impacting the already adulterated and increasingly toxic supply chain. Some ways to reduce this risk are you get your drugs tested and cross-reference all potential combinations (including meds you have may have started during the pandemic to support your mental health. Remember to ensure you have everything you need on hand to avoid sharing items that touch others body fluids such as straws, vapes and smoking implements.
If you use drugs or if you're going to a gathering where people might be using, have Naloxone on hand and make sure any guests know where it is located. Naloxone is a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. If you're in BC, find a list of pharmacies and agencies distributing free take-home Naloxone kits here. If you're in Alberta, learn where to get Naloxone here.
5pm: Learn to spot an overdose
We need to look out for one another. Even folks who don't use alcohol or drugs should be able to recognise when something isn’t right. No matter what event you're at, it helps to be aware of what an overdose looks like. Some signs of an opioid overdose are:
If you encounter a person with any of these symptoms, use your best judgment and call 911. If you are spending the evening alone and using substances, the LifeGaurd app can help promote safety while solo. The Fireside Project offers peer support for people who need support while on psychedelics.
Get some food in that tummy. If you party on an empty stomach, you may not be feeling so great by the time midnight rolls around.
As Crystal Precious once said, water is a life force. If your evening involves dancing all night or getting sweaty in an after-hours venue, try and bring your own water bottle. If you're throwing an event, offer free water at the bar. If it's not just water in your bottle, make that obvious by colouring the liquid with food colouring, writing on the bottle AND telling people what's in the bottle if they ask for a drink.
8pm: Going to someone else’s house? Gather what you need
Some essentials may include: A warm jacket, phone and charger, ID, personal hand sanitizer, mask, proof of vaccine if required, naloxone, water bottle, and any items you may want to have with you for comfort and connection.
10 pm: Be in the moment
Take a look around you. It’s been a challenging, isolating few years since we were all together, and it’s likely you are gonna feel some grief around folks and connections you are missing. Tell your friends you love them, and be a total dork about it if you need to. Close your eyes and imagine the dancefloors we will return to in 2022, gatherings that include a variety of bodies and a gradient of faces and wheelchairs and mamas and queens and grandpas, old and new friends and strangers, and where everyone feels safe and celebrated. Maybe renew an internal commitment to fight for spaces like that in our new future. Wherever you are, pick up after yourself, follow the host’s COVID measures, be nice to the staff (tip if you have the means) and leave in peace.
11 pm: Be patient
Not giving a substance enough time to take effect is a common factor in substance-related medical emergencies. Some people might not feel effects immediately and then take more, which can result in mild to serious medical distress or an overdose. Many variables influence how quickly you will feel the effects of something, including the route into your body, the food in your belly, and what else is in your system. It’s also worth pointing out, with events and festivals being few and far between the last 2 years, people’s tolerance may not be what it used to be, putting them at increased risk of overdose.
12pm: Boundary Awareness
The midnight kiss may not pan out the same during a pandemic, but the need for consent remains the same. People may have different boundaries and comfort levels with closeness and touch now, and its really important to Respect those boundaries. If you see someone making people feel unsafe or uncomfortable, let the host or staff know, or use one of these handy intervention strategies.
1am: Don’t leave anyone to “sleep it off”
Not every overdose happens instantly. Some set in over the course of hours, as a person’s body slowly shuts down and breathing becomes more laboured or as substances overwhelm normal body functions. If someone is in really rough shape, putting them to bed might not be safe. If you have reason to be concerned that someone is in medical trouble, call 911. It is not illegal to be on drugs and it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
If you are concerned about someone, but it’s not an emergency, lay them on their side and make them cozy in a room where someone can keep an eye on them.
2am: Get home safe
Remember that most public transit is free tonight. DO NOT DRIVE while under the influence of anything. Try and avoid putting people in cabs or ubers and hoping for the best - Consider sharing a cab, even if people aren’t on the way. The night isn’t truly over until we know everyone got to their final destination and sends that “Home safe! Night <3” group text.
3am and beyond: Take care of yourself
Drink some water, have a snack, get some sleep. Surround yourself in what makes you feel the safest. We live in trying times where nights like tonight remind us that human connection and self-care are valuable currency. Make plans for tomorrow with a book, art, nature or someone you love. Don’t forget - if you do start to show COVID symptoms in the days following, isolate, access testing and be sure your contacts are made aware.
By Stacey Forrester, Bass Coast Festival harm reduction manager