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Party organizers prepare for possible fentanyl overdoses at Pride

Denim Vest, Pumpjack, The Junction and the Pride Society all have kits just in case

Pumpjack Pub manager Byron Cooke holds a naloxone kit.
Byron Cooke says his staff at the Pumpjack Pub and The Junction on Davie Street will be ready with naloxone kits in case of a fentanyl overdose. Credit: Angelika Kagan/Xtra

As the fentanyl crisis continues to impact the LGBT community, some organizers are taking steps to prepare for possible overdoses in their party spaces this Pride.

Emily Groundwater, co-organizer of the Denim Vest queer dance parties, says the first step was to make sure there would be people on site who are trained to administer the overdose-reversing drug Narcan (the brand name of naloxone), which can help revive someone who has stopped breathing.

“Narcan kits aren’t cheap,” Groundwater notes, “but luckily we’ve been able to source them for free” through community partners.

Denim Vest, which has hosted about five queer dance parties a year since 2014, started responding to the fentanyl crisis about a year and a half ago, Groundwater says, seeking Narcan-trained staff and volunteers and letting party goers know in advance that they would have kits on site in case of emergency.

Groundwater says organizers also posted signs in the bathroom, encouraging people not to use drugs alone in case they might need help.

Denim Vest has also been offering harm-reduction drug use kits, including sterile straws for snorting drugs (which Groundwater says is the most common way of consuming drugs amongst people who attend Denim Vest parties).

“We have had people coming forward and asking for those [sterile straws],” Groundwater says. Since the fentanyl crisis, there’s been more open dialogue around drug use, she adds, and it’s “from a place of being more responsible, which is awesome.”

In preparation for the Denim Vest Pride party this weekend, Groundwater and her co-organizer are also trying to find fentanyl test strips, so they can hand them out at their Saturday night party. Like Narcan kits, the test kits aren’t cheap. If they can’t find them locally for free, Groundwater says, they will buy them online and rush-ship them from the United States.

In the West End, the management team at the Pumpjack Pub and The Junction has also equipped itself with Narcan kits. Byron Cooke, the general manager, says that because of the prevalence of fentanyl in street drugs, he wants his team to be equipped for a worst-case scenario.

“We felt that in the event that something does happen we should be prepared. You know it’s a matter of minutes that somebody has,” he says.

Cooke says his team attended a training by Vancouver Coastal Health to ask when to administer Narcan and what risks it might involve.

Andrea Arnot, the co-executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS), says staff there have been trained to administer Narcan as well, and have several strategies to address possible fentanyl emergencies at this year’s festivities.

Paramedics from St John Ambulance will be present at official Pride events and the VPS has subcontracted harm reduction organizations to help educate event attendees. Karmik, a non-profit organization which educates people on safer partying and safer drug use, will have booths at the Davie Street party and at the Sunset Beach festival, as well as a roaming team.

Xtra asked Arnot what someone can do if they suspect someone is overdosing at a VPS event and might need help.

“All of our staff and volunteers wear VPS T-shirts so if they see someone wearing a Vancouver Pride T-shirt, especially if they have a radio, tell them right away and then we can get medical services to them immediately,” she says.