Mounties say one woman is dead and at least a dozen others received treatment in hospital for suspected drug overdoses after the first full day of the Boonstock Music and Arts Festival, prompting a warning to attendees.
“Penticton RCMP have a very real concern for public safety at this event and fear there may be further overdose deaths if attendees do not take steps to safeguard their own health,” according to a statement issued Saturday afternoon.
“Police are asking all Boonstock attendees to refrain from ingesting unknown substances and to ensure that they remain hydrated in the hot, dry, dusty conditions of the event grounds.”
The dead woman is a 24-year-old from Leduc, Alta., who died early Saturday morning. Her name has not been released pending notification of next of kin.
Boonstock organizers posted a statement on the event’s Facebook page that states she became “distressed while dancing at one of our stages.”
“Despite the best efforts of medical professionals, she tragically passed away at the Penticton Regional Hospital. We are deeply saddened by this news and we know that our communities will band together and keep her and her loved ones in our thoughts.”
The statement, signed by the “Boonstock Music and Arts Festival family,” thanked the “security team and guests who were quick to find help and assist emergency responders,” and noted there would be no further comment from organizers out of respect for the victim’s family.
Mounties said that in the course of their investigation into the woman’s death, officers “discovered that two other people were in critical condition at the hospital as a result of drug overdoses,” while “at least a dozen others had already been treated for drug overdose.”
That doesn’t come as a surprise to Boonstock festival goer Wojtek Tomalik from Edmonton, Alta.
“Even for kids to leave the event and go find water it was a scavenger hunt,” he said on Saturday afternoon while hanging out with friends at Skaha Lake. “Honestly, I really hoped I wouldn’t have this conversation today … this is the worst fear I had.”
Tomalik said on Friday around 10 p.m. he was at the Kalamalka stage where electronic dance music was being played, when he began to feel dehyrated.
He began searching for water and made his way to a Red Bull tent that had none to provide, but a worker there offered him an energy drink instead.
“I came up to a girl giving it away and said, ‘You are giving thirsty kids Red Bull? That is not very smart,’ and the only response was like, ‘I don’t know.'”
Tomalik said he felt almost immediately upon entering the festival grounds that obtaining drinking water was going to be an issue. He said many people didn’t think to bring money with them onto the concert grounds because their campsites seemed so close, but once the music started they were not about to leave.
“I don’t know if dehydration has anything to do with (the overdose death) last night, which is horrible, but I can see that I would have collapsed if I didn’t go out and find water about a kilometre away,” he said.
Although Tomalik said the festival has an awesome energy surrounding it, he feels there should be a stronger push for people to drink water.
Interior Health spokeswoman Grace Kucey agreed about the need to drink water and reminded people “to take care that they are keeping hydrated while outside in hot and dusty conditions and avoid increasing their health risks by mixing alcohol and drugs.
“Overdoses are a very real risk when mixing intoxicants.”
-With files from Kristi Patton