Through Project Safe Audience (PSA) a group of young volunteer nurses are helping to reduce high-risk behavior amongst their peers partying at raves in the city of Winnipeg, Canada. They have even branched out into training the organizers of other events in using life-saving Naloxone.
During the late-night, high-decibel electronic dance parties the volunteers provide harm reduction information, as well as supplies and services from booths set up at the venue. Ear plugs and information cards on the potential harm of noise; condoms; as well as drug information cards are distributed for free.
There is a facility for testing whether drugs have been cut with other, dangerous substances, and also for the safe disposal of these drugs so that they don’t get into the hands of the next person. Around 75% of cocaine they have tested is contaminated by other substances, and often its methamphetamine. Naloxone kits, and persons trained to administer this emergency treatment for opiate overdoses, are also available.
At each event PSA creates a safe space for party goers who are having a psychedelic crisis – a drug induced temporary psychosis, or who just feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable. “Through conversations with the ravers, we realized there was a need for a safe space,” explained Bryce Koch, the project leader. “We now seek out an isolated section of the venue and equip the space with blankets, soft lighting, bottles of water and colouring books. A large sign identifies the area, and we set up Christmas lights that help draw people in.” A PSA volunteer, trained in assisting anyone experiencing a difficult psychedelic trip, is always present when someone is in this space.
Koch and a friend, Joseph Keilty, started the project while they were final year nursing students. They were taking a class in community health development and realized that rave audiences represented a vulnerable community, engaging in risky behavior. Koch had also come across the harm reduction concept while volunteering at the medical tent during the Shambhala Music Festival, one of the major music festivals in Canada. The project started off small with a few volunteers and with most of the initial supplies coming out of their own pockets. They were however able to connect with two companies that donated some supplies and trained them in the use of Naloxone.
Over time they learnt from experience. “We saw a need to change what the volunteers were wearing, to appear more like attendees and less like young professionals,” Koch explained. “We looked out of place in our standard uniform of black shirts and khakis. We now wear bright clothing and will even don a string of lights.” They also quickly had to learn the lingo to be able to connect with the rave community. For example MDMA is no longer referred to as ecstasy, but most often called Molly or Caps.
Koch and Keilty are still passionate about their project, although they are no longer students and both working in the emergency department at Seven Oaks Hospital in Winnipeg. They, and the other volunteers, try to cover at least one event a month to help the community that they grew up in. They have also provided Naloxone training for event organizers and staff, including 90 volunteers at the Shambhala Music Festival. Increasing this training is where they see a future role for PSA, so that even if their own volunteers are not at a rave there will be people who know how to reverse an opiate overdose and save a life.