Sex, Drugs, and Harm Reduction: We all know it happens, let’s make it safe as possible for everyone who uses drugs.

The music scene combined with recreational drug use have gone hand in hand since music has been a mainstream way of bringing people together. It seems every movement has their drug using stereotypes as unique as the music itself. Since before the rampant United States propaganda of the “War on Drugs”, starting with cannabis during Jazz era in the 30’s, the hippie movement in the 60’s with LSD , the Black-Out Drinking culture of the punk and metal scene starting in the 70’s, till the crack cocaine era and NWA in the 80’s and 90’s. Music and drugs go together like coffee and cream with a touch of cocaine. They both wake people up, bring people together, but only one of them is criminalized.

Having been an active member of my local music community scene since the late 90’s, I know firsthand that recreational drug use is commonplace at every bar, house party, festival and so on regardless of music genre, age group, or demographics.

My experience has primarily been in the Rave and Festival scene from the 90’s to the present, with the drugs usually being ecstasy and now MDMA, but I have seen it all in my career as a DJ. I watched the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) subculture grow into its own culture–I witnessed the transition. Raves & Festivals have always been fashionable to me and my crew, and we kept each other safe but lately (as in pre-COVID days) everyone seems to be starting their own little festival. It worries me, do they practice harm reduction, do they know about drug testing, naloxone, consent, and just looking out for each other? 

“It worries me, do they practice harm reduction, do they know about drug testing, naloxone, consent, and just looking out for each other?”

That’s why in 2019, I heard about a grassroots advocacy organization called the HaliFIX Overdose Prevention Society that was trying to open an Overdose Prevention Site for people to have a safe space to use, and it made me think back to all the experiences I have had. I knew I had to get involved, some way, somehow. First, I bought two shirts and met Matt Bonn. We have been like brothers ever since. 

Last summer, I played a different role in one of the festivals I usually DJ at. I was promoting it, managing it, and making sure everyone there was safe and having a good time. But I knew there was still a huge gap in safe drug use compared to unsafe drug use at these events. A crew of us from Rock the Dock and HaliFIX Overdose Prevention Society got together to provide education, services, naloxone and drug testing training.

We rented out a spot in the North End of Halifax, got tons of Naloxone kits, fentanyl test strips, harm reduction supplies including safer gear, condoms, lube and tons of educational resources. We also had an educational aspect to the day where a close friend presented a knowledge translation session on Sex, Drugs, & Harm Reduction. Who doesn’t like having sex and doing drugs? We just need to know how to do it safely. 

“Who doesn’t like having sex and doing drugs? We just need to know how to do it safely.”

We spent the afternoon providing life-saving information AND fundraising for what would soon be Atlantic Canada’s first Overdose Prevention Site (OPS). We left that day filled with excitement and over $250 raised for the OPS, having the recreational drug using scene give back to a service that was long overdue in Halifax.

People use drugs for so many different reasons, some for pain, others for pleasure. While some people’s drug use becomes more serious or compulsive, that doesn’t mean we push them aside and isolate them, we need to care for them more than ever. Drug dependency for the most part is in conjunction with mental health issues that need to be addressed, yet casual/recreational drug use is a more widespread issue that is potentially more dangerous as there are practically no services for a recreational drug user and if you ask for help amongst your friends, sometimes it may not be taken seriously. 

The best thing we can do as a community is to accept the fact that drug use and sex happen and will continue to happen, so we need to practice safer sex, promote safer drug use practices, including safer injection. What the average person needs to understand is that we all practice harm reduction, if you wear a seat belt in your car that’s harm reduction, if you wear a helmet while on a bicycle that’s harm reduction, so this isn’t a new concept and we must accept people for who they are with unconditional love.

Groups like Dancesafe and Bunkpolice have been around since the 90’s and have paved the way for a frank conversation about recreational drug use, but died out a little when the warehouse rave scene began to shut down in the early 2000’s. Years passed and the rave community moved into the bars and the conversation fizzled out. Today we bring it back to light.

I’m happy to say that there has been a resurgence in the past decade as popularity of festivals gain more and more momentum, drug testing sites and harm reduction workshops are commonplace and expected by festival goers. This has transitioned back into the bar scene by the local club promoters, fundraisers and open and honest conversations about harm reduction are becoming the norm.

It’s not always easy talking about recreational drug use compared to dependency and addiction but it needs to happen. People die everyday and a lot of them aren’t long time hardcore drug users, they’re new to the sceen and take a drug that hasn’t been tested. I know way too many people who have died because they thought they couldn’t.

By Mark Harmsworth

Mark Harmsworth

Mark Harmsworth

Mark is a well known local Halifax DJ. Mark isn’t just a musician but he’s a show promoter, brand developer, and soon to be certified graphic designer. He’s been in the EDM scene for over 15 years, performing and running hundreds if not thousands of events, which has always had a focus on diversity and inclusivity. Mark one was of the DJ’s that brought the philosophy of harm reduction in Atlantic Canada (He/Him).