In the Height of Music Festival Season, Vancouver Couple’s Death Highlights the Danger of Recreational Drug Use

In conversations with some of my young professional peers, it’s quite apparent that a good portion of them have tried a chemical recreational drug at some point in their lives.

It could have been at a music festival (like this weekend’s Veld Music Festival in Toronto or Montreal’s Osheaga Festival), at a party, or at a cottage.

Maybe it was for no real reason at all.


Either way, these are all people with great jobs, otherwise healthy living rituals, and have mature, deep relationships with others. They are past the young, experimental, hard-partying phase too – most admitted to taking chemical drugs when they were well into their late twenties and older.

This week’s story of a Vancouver couple – parents to a two-year-old child – and their lethal overdose sent chills down my spine, especially in the wake of such discussions. In the smiling picture of the early-thirties couple that’s made its way through the country’s news channels, they look like they could be any of our friends.

Hardy and Amelia Leighton were found dead in their North Vancouver home on July 20, and toxicology reports have since confirmed that the couple had ingested toxic levels of fentanyl in combination with other drugs.

The deaths have resulted in new warnings by the coroner, health officials, and police about the dangers associated with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid which is much more toxic than morphine. It’s particularly dangerous to those who are naïve opioid users, according to the coroner.

Though it’s been linked to heroin-related deaths, the couple was not using heroin – and that’s the scary part.

Apparently, they had been taking prescription medication that had a respiratory depressant effect that compounded the effect of the fentanyl. It isn’t known what the couple bought that was laced with fentanyl, or what they thought they were using. In some cases of fentanyl overdoses, the users ingested it believing that it was other chemical drugs, like oxycodone, cocaine, or ecstasy.

And, let’s be honest, most of us know people who have tried one of those things.

According the coroner, the percentage of deadly drug overdoses in which fentanyl is detected has risen to more than 25 per cent. In more than 80 per cent of the cases, the death was the result of a mixed drug overdose, with fentanyl being just one component. When it comes to mind-altering substances, though I personally prefer a more “natural and greener” option, the reality is that – while the news of the deaths may be a bit of a buzz kill – they probably won’t stop countless young people from sourcing some out for the weekend.

Especially after the deaths of two concertgoers at last year’s Veld festival (13 others were taken to the hospital), the only hope is that – if people are going to take chemical street drugs in the first place – that you’re smart about it. Remember that you may react differently to the drug than your friend will, depending on your age, weight, height, the amount you take, any pre-existing conditions, and what drugs or alcohol you combine it with.

Remember, most of the time you have no idea what you’re being sold – or told, for that matter.

When it comes to music festivals – again, like this weekend’s Veld and Osheaga – it would make sense to distribute drug-testing kits on-site. The thing is that Nova Scotia’s Evolve Music Festival tried to do just that earlier this month and the move almost resulted in the cancellation of the event all together.

Apparently, the idea to do so wasn’t compatible with securing liability insurance, which was initially pulled over the idea to offer the free kits to concertgoers.

The insurance companies saw the move as one that condoned drug use.

The idea behind the kits, however, is to allow users to be more aware of what they are taking, as they are able to analyze the chemical compound in LSD, MDMA, and speed. If adopted, they could prevent festivalgoers from the same fate as the Vancouver couple.

But whatever you do, just be safe out there.