Pubdate: Sat, 09 Jul 2016
Source: Ottawa Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: Megan Gillis
Page: 11


Groups work to reduce drug overdoses, sex assaults during summer

With the summer festival season in full blast, there's a dark side to
the fun in the sun.

One local service agency is helping festival-goers who use drugs avoid
the deadly mistakes that have killed people in Ottawa and across
Canada by offering low-tech checking kits.

Another is training Ottawa festival volunteers - more than 4,500 of
them last year alone at events like Escapade, RBC Bluesfest and
CityFolk - to intervene when they see sexual violence, which spikes at
mass gatherings.

"One of our big messages is how can we make fun safe?" said Stefanie
Lomatski of the Sexual Assault Network, which helped launch Project
SoundCheck, an initiative that helps teach volunteers to recognize and
stop sexual violence at festivals.

"To have an enjoyable time, we want to build people's safety and
awareness and a community where people are willing to step in."

The Ottawa Hospital treated eight women for sexual assault and Ottawa
police were investigating as many as 10 sexual assaults on a single
weekend last month.

The hospital reported that six of those women were under 20, with
assaults reported to have happened at festival sites and parties.

It's the same "devastating" trend explored in Ottawa Hospital research
in 2014, which found that sexual assaults peak during celebrations
such as New Year's Eve and Canada Day, with statistical links to
youth, drugs and alcohol and assailants who were strangers.

"It's a community responsibility to address sexual violence," Lomatski
said. "We can change what that looks like."

Project SoundCheck trains volunteers to look for signs of trouble
while they're taking tickets or selling merchandise, and step in and
get help.

Volunteers might spot someone who appears very drunk, high or confused
and vulnerable to what the project calls drug and alcohol-facilitated
sexual assault - say if they see someone slip a pill into a drink or
overhear a troubling conversation.

They learn skills like how to "check in" - which could be as simple as
striking up a conversation about the band to gauge the situation - or
the "distraction technique" when they are concerned about how two
people are interacting.

When it comes to drug use, the problem is that information about
widely-used but potentially dangerous substances is not being shared
at all.

"When warnings get out there it's long after someone has had an
adverse reaction," explained Caleb Chepesiuk, harm reduction
coordinator at the AIDS Committee of Ottawa.

"In Ottawa, we have no idea whether the MDMA is stronger than it used
to be or adulterated - we don't have the ability to monitor. What we
get is rumours and gossip in place of health information. This is the
gap in harm reduction we're trying to address."

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse reports that five young people
died that summer alone at music festivals with alcohol, drugs or both
as contributing factors.

Among its recommendations were making sure there's enough water to
avoid dehydration at events like dance parties, finding ways to
quickly share word of bad drugs and considering checking services.

While the test kits are cheap and simple, they don't indicate strength
and only pick up one substance at a time, such as ketamine, which
turns bright red, and MDMA, nearblack.

It takes sophisticated equipment to pick up fentanyl - a major concern
right now - and identify multiple substances through a checking
service, which is the ultimate goal, Chepesiuk said.

"It's peak party time," he said. "A lot of drug use is situational,
not habitual. That doesn't mean people are not facing the same risks.

"They may be less educated on the ways of making sure the drug is what
it says it is."
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MAP posted-by: Matt