Overdose death at B.C. music fest prompts police warning
Emily Chan, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, August 3, 2014 2:15PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, August 4, 2014 12:04AM EDT
Two recent deaths at British Columbia music festivals are focusing attention on drug use at the popular outdoor events.
A 24-year-old Alberta woman died of a suspected drug overdose at Boonstock music festival in Penticton, B.C. this weekend. Festival organizers said in a statement that the woman "became distressed while dancing at one of our stages." She later died at Penticton Regional Hospital.
Local RCMP said at the time of the woman’s death that another 12 people had been treated for drug overdoses at Boonstock festival, and that two people were hospitalized and in critical condition.
This comes just two weeks after 21-year-old Nick Phongsavath of Regina died at Pemberton Music Festival. The exact cause of his death has not been confirmed, but police have ruled out foul play.
And just a week before the Boonstock death, RCMP recorded similar numbers of overdoses at the Center of Gravity festival in Kelowna.
"You could argue that maybe Kelowna was fortunate that there were no fatalities," Kelowna RCMP Const. Kris Clark told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
RCMP warns of 'overdose deaths'
The numbers are so concerning that Kelowna RCMP issued a statement on Saturday warning of "overdose deaths."
"The Penticton RCMP have a very real concern for public safety at this event and fear there may be further overdose deaths if attendees do not take steps to safeguard their own health," the statement said.
Clark said keeping concerts substance-free is a nearly-impossible task.
"Even the best security companies in the world can search every bag and every pocket and unfortunately people will still find a way of getting illicit substances into an event," Clark said. "And even if security could find and confiscate every substance entering festival grounds people could still drink or take drugs before arriving."
Because of this, police are asking people at festivals to take charge of their own safety.
The Kelowna RCMP encourages concert-goers to stay hydrated, avoid any unknown or illegal substances, and keep an eye on their drinks to make sure they aren’t tampered with.
Boonstock safety fears nothing new
Safety fears about Boonstock began well before the first performer took to the stage.
Before the festival had even started, the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch denied the festival a liquor licence, citing safety concerns.
Boonstock organizers were also forced to hire a new security company last month after International Crowd Management terminated their agreement with the festival company, saying the Boonstock safety plan raised health and safety concerns.
In a statement after the woman’s death, Boonstock organizers said the security team and guests were quick to help the woman when they noticed something was wrong.
"The culture of a music festival is one that provides a place where everyone belongs, is welcomed and watches out for one another," the statement said.
Not just a B.C. problem
B.C. festivals haven’t been the only concerts plagued by safety problems this year.
A 20-year-old man died on Friday after the Mad Decent Block Party in Columbia, Maryland where another 20 people were hospitalized for drug overdoses.
"This event that occurred Friday night to Saturday morning is extremely tragic," Clark said. "A 24-year-old Alberta woman lost her life due to an apparent overdose. And the unfortunate reality is that something like this has happened elsewhere and could happen again."