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Father warns of tainted drugs during this year's Escapade Music Festival

The popular festival is in Ottawa showcasing Electronic Dance Music but drug overdoses have marred past events 
Stock photo of crushed fentanyl.

Steve Cody doesn't want to see it happen to another family. 

His son Nick was 17 in 2013 when he passed away after taking the popular party drug MDMA, a pill later determined to be laced with fentanyl. 

This weekend's Escapade Music Festival usually means a spike in overdose calls for emergency services and the Ottawa father and entrepreneur is warning festival goers who want to take drugs to be incredibly careful.

"The biggest danger is fentanyl, anything cut with fentanyl," Cody said. 

Whether it be pills, powders or something you inject, Cody suggests getting drugs tested for those who plan to take them, which you can do at Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. 

"They can stop by Sandy Hill and do some testing if they'd like, there's test strips they can buy, but I think people need to be extremely aware of the dangers of fentanyl," Cody said. 

"We have I think one person losing their life every two hours now in Canada and that's one family being destroyed as well. Big impact." 

Since the death of his son, Cody has worked hard as an advocate for developing drug testing kits to prevent such deaths by detecting the presence of fentanyl in street drugs, even helping Health Canada run a competition to develop one, with a winner expected next year. 

He said there is absolutely no way for a person to tell if the drug they're taking is laced with anything and told people not to assume anything. 

"If somebody tells you it's not cut with fentanyl, I would not take that at face value," Cody said. 

With a large event like a festival, where his son Nick took the drugs that led to his death, he agreed it's harder to properly source drugs being sold and taken. 

While any help from government on this front would always be welcome, Cody said education remains the largest piece he believes can help curb many tragic deaths across the country. 

"I try to share what I know when I can in terms of how it easy it is to be killed by fentanyl, we lost our son because of it. It was at a festival, it was MDMA, it was one bad pill," he said. "It's just that easy." 

"When you understand they take a pin of fentanyl, the equivalent of a grain of salt, grind it into a powder and that powder has to be made into 12 or 13 piles for one pill. If that is not divided up properly, somebody could lose their life."

It's eye-opening, according to Cody, when "you start to understand how it easy it is for someone to be making a mistake in the process."

In terms of a public conversation, he believes a stigma still exists in talking about such problems but any conversation is a good one. He recommends parents be as open as possible with kids, as until Nick's death, Cody didn't even know about fentanyl and feels he knows a lot more now. 

"I could have shared that knowledge with my kids," he said. "We all make bad decisions but it's a lot easier if we can make an educated and informed decision."

On top of speaking with their kids, Cody believes parents should also speak to other parents about it and the conversation should continue on social media, where young people are more present. 

"We should all be talking about."

Ottawa Public Health recommends drug users know what their taking but also notes the dangers of fentanyl, as the drug can't be seen, tasted or smelled, making the risk of overdose much higher. The

The public health agency worked with Escapade organizers to train their volunteers on signs and symptoms of overdoses and what bystanders should do if they witness one. They've also provided materials to post on the festival's website. 

Ottawa Paramedic Service and the Canadian Ski Patrol took to Twitter to notify the public of its presence at the festival, wishing attendees a good time but warning the consumption of any street drug is inherently dangerous. 

Ottawa Public Health said both paramedics and Ski Patrol members have been trained to spot the signs and symptoms of opioid overdoses and how to safely administer naloxone, an overdose reversal drug. 

Last year's Escapade Music Festival saw a number of people taken to hospital for overdoses but no deaths were reported. 

This year's event runs Saturday and Sunday at TD Place.


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