Dying at a Concert is Easier Than You Think

a Report on Drug-Related Deaths at Concerts

By Ryan Hogan | May 30, 2014

Report Sections
The Types of Concerts - Electronic Dance Music | Festivals | Phish
The Types of Drugs - MDMA | Designer Drugs | Solutions


>>In 2010, at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Los Angeles, over 200 people were taken to the hospital after either overdosing or being trampled.  Police arrested sixty people, mostly due to drug-related offenses.  One concert-goer, Sasha Rodriguez, died from an MDMA overdose.  She was 15 and the carnival was the first rave she ever attended.

>>In 2010, at the Electric Zoo Festival in New York City, Olivia Rotondo, a 20-year-old college student told a medic, "I just took six hits of Molly.”  She then suffered a seizure and eventually died from an overdose of MDMA.  She was the second of two MDMA overdoses at the festival.

>>In 2010, in Dublin, during a Swedish House Mafia and Snoop Dogg concert, a man was arrested by an undercover police office after he stabbed multiple people in the back just to watch them suffer.  That wasn’t even the worst thing that happened that night.  Three people died from drug overdoses including one who was caught in the rest room with a syringe in his arm.

>>In 2011, in Dallas, at the Electric Daisy Carnival, 30 people were taken to local area hospitals for drug and heat-related illnesses.  At one point, there were 10 different rescue units at the venue.  There was one fatality, 19-year-old Andrew Graf.  He died from an overdose of amphetamine.

>>In 2014, in Kuala Lumpur, six people died from drug and alcohol overdoses at the Future Music Festival.  The victims ranged in age from 21 to 28.

The music concert is the pinnacle of live entertainment.  The musicians on stage aren’t merely playing their instruments.  They’re creating magic and their magic transforms and transports the attendee more potently and dynamically than any other medium.

When done well, live music transcends cultural barriers, erases language differences, and tears down economic classes.
Furthermore, live music isn’t diminished by sight lines.  If the acoustics are good and the venue accommodating, it doesn’t matter how big the row number is on your concert ticket.  Even in nosebleed seats, the experience of attending a live music concert is still indelible and intense.

However, one thing that can horribly mar a concert is a fatality.  In this article more than 200 fatalities at concerts since 1969 are mentioned or referenced.  And about 36 of them were drug-related deaths! That’s a lot of souls who’ve attended a concert but never had the chance to return home and regale others in their musical adventure.

Most deaths at concerts are caused by stampedes, structural failures, or violence.  Due to their usual high body counts, and the fact that they occur at high profile events, these calamitous concerts are the ones that make headlines and stick in the public’s consciousness.  

There is another killer lurking at music concerts and it’s far more insidious than the previously mentioned murderers. 

Drugs. And it's getting worse.

Drug-related deaths and overdoses at concerts are often under-reported, and bear in mind that overdoses often lead to death, but not always.  They lack a salacious body count, and due to the amount of time it takes for the autopsy report to confirm or deny an overdose, the media is on to another story long before drugs are officially implicated. The victims, often teenagers or college students, die quitely.

No matter how diligent, no one can foresee a structural catastrophe, and no matter how many security guards a promoter employs, the sudden tide of violence cannot be leveed, but every drug death that’s ever occurred at a concert was one-hundred percent avoidable.

Not all concerts are created equal however; some types of concerts have more drug-related deaths than others. We'll examine the types of concerts and live music events that share the heaviest burden of drug-related fatalities and the specific drugs that cause them below.


Text Box: *Concerts occurred in the U.S. and Canada.


~ The Types of Concerts & Music ~

 


EDM
(Electronic Dance Music)

EDM, or electronic dance music, grew out of disco of the late 1970s.  Over the years it’s gone by many appellations, “club music,” “dance music,” and “electronica,” but the sound has remained relatively the same—pounding kick drum, thumping bass, and electronic accompaniments.  A deejay plays electronic dance music on turntables or a laptop computer.  They are judged by how well they keep people on the dance floor as their music never stops—one song flows into the next. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, the deejay was part of the nightclub experience and integrated into the venue.  Nowadays, the most popular deejays have left the nightclubs and perform concerts like traditional musicians. 

Some of the biggest names in EDM are DeadMau5, Skrillex, David Guetta, Tiësto, Avicii, Afrojack, and Swedish House Mafia.  These artists help their genre generate more than $4 billion a year.

Electronic dance music caters to teenagers and college students.  While you can have an EDM show anytime of the year, the genre is especially active during the summer months. 

Electronic Dance Music Goes Mainstream

>>Daft Punk won Album of the Year at the 2014 Grammys.

>>Skrillex appeared on cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

>>One of Afrojack’s songs was used in a Super Bowl commercial.

>>Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” was used in ads for The Voice and Inside the NBA.

>>Forbes Magazine advised readers to invest in EDM event companies.

There’s something else that’s associated with electronic dance music and that’s the drug MDMA.  EDM fans may not want to admit it, but MDMA is as much a part of the genre as strobe lights and neon glow sticks. 

"...rave culture as a whole is barely conceivable without drugs, or at least without drug metaphors: by itself, the music drugs the listener." (Reynolds’ italics) — Simon Reynolds from his book, Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture (1998) 

The pendulum of taste is definitely bringing electronic dance music into the mainstream.  Yet, for those music fans that don’t have Skrillex or Avicii in their iPods, their introduction to the genre is not through pulsating beats but appalling headlines.

>>Aug. 28, 2013, 19-year-old Brittany Flannigan died from a Molly overdose at the House of Blues nightclub in Boston.

>>Sept. 1, 2013, a 17-year-old girl found herself in critical condition after taking Molly and passing out at the Sun City Music Festival in El Paso, Texas.

>> Labor Day Weekend 2013, at the Electric Zoo Festival held on New York’s Randall’s Island, 20-year-old Olivia Rotondo and 23-year-old Jeffrey Russ both died from a MDMA overdose.  The third day of the festival was canceled.

>>Sept. 14, 2013, a 14-year-old girl died after taking five doses of “Molly” and attending an electronic music concert in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Doctors clocked her heart rate at twice the normal speed and her friends said they didn’t try to stop her because they weren’t “her parents.”

>> September of 2013, at an EDM party in Manchester England, a 30-year-old man died and five others were hospitalized from what police believe was a bad batch of MDMA.

>> June 22, 2014, at the EDM festival Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, NV. Montgomery Tsang, 24, collapsed in the festival’s parking lot. He was taken to an area hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. And Anthony Anaya, 25, was found unresponsive at the Vdara resort. Both are waiting toxicology reports, but MDMA is believed to be the culprit.

The above incidents represent just a small portion of the MDMA overdoses that have occurred at electronic music concerts.  Furthermore, reports of concert-goers overdosing on Molly, and or ecstasy, go back several years. 

In September of 2006, Joshua Johnson died after attending a rave in San Bernardino, California.  Before his body finally surrendered to ecstasy poisoning, Johnson suffered seizures and an endured 107-degree temperature.  He was 18 years old.
MDMA is not the only drug responsible for deaths at EDM shows. 

At the electronic music festival “Paradiso,” held at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington in June of 2013, 21-year-old Patrick D. Witkowski died of organ failure and dehydration caused by methamphetamine intoxication.  In 2012, after attending a rave at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts, Connor Brandon, 19, and Dominic Impelizzieri, 27, both succumbed to the negative effects of drug and alcohol consumption.

 


Festivals

It wasn’t the first time drugs were used at a rock concert but it’s the most famous.  In August of 1969, 400,000 music fans assembled at Max Yasgur's 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York to listen to performances by 32 acts.  The three-day music and arts festival was called Woodstock. 

Woodstock is one of the greatest moments in the history of rock and roll and perhaps the seminal moment of the 1960s.  Not only did Woodstock bring together artists like The Who, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but its attendees were amazingly tranquil.  Half a million hippies—who championed peace, love, and understanding—proved to the world that they could definitely practice what they preached.

While there were no major incidences of mass violence at Woodstock there were two tragedies.  There was a heroin overdose and a tractor ran over and killed an attendee who was sleeping in a field (although you’d have to assume if you don’t hear a large piece of farm equipment approaching you’re probably high on something).

Two deaths is two too many but when you consider what could have happened when 400,000 people moved into a venue lacking proper facilities and overflowing with drugs it’s a miracle the body count wasn’t higher.  A generation later, they tried doing “Woodstock” again.  While no one died, the festival was an abject failure.

Woodstock 1999 attracted about half of the attendees the original did but was marred by violence, rape, and destruction.  MTV host Kurt Loder described the scene as having “a palpable mood of anger.”  When it was all said and done, four rapes were investigated, seven arrests were made, six people suffered injuries, and 12 trailers were burn. 

Remarkably, no one died.

The original Woodstock is a shining example of what should happen at a music festival while Woodstock 1999 is a bitter reminder of what can happen when thousands of young people gather to listen to live music.

Three years after the debacle of Woodstock 1999, one of the most important music festivals in the history of rock and roll began, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.  Held in Manchester, Tennessee, the festival has welcomed a plethora of big time talent to its stages over the years including Paul McCartney, Phish, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, and Willie Nelson.

From 2002 to 2013, Bonnaroo was attended by nearly one million music fans.  Of those million people ten never left the festival.

Deaths At Bonnaroo (as of 2013)

>>2004 - Brandon Taylor, 20, drug-related.
>>2004 - Amber Lynn Stephens, 22, drug-related.
>>2005 - David Ottman, 32, methadone overdose.
>>2006 - Josh Overall, 21, is struck and killed by Ricky Skaggs' tour bus.
>>2007 - Cody L. Conover, 25, drug-related
>>2009 - The body of a white man in his 20s was found in a tent on Bonnaroo grounds.
>>2010 - David Matthew Sloan,29, heat-related.
>>2011 - Christopher Yoder, 24, hyperthermia
>>2011 - Beth Myers, 32, heat-related
>>2012 - Zachary James Shuck, 24, drug-related

Many applaud Bonnaroo for its relatively low death count.  Sadly, people die at rock concerts all the time although not every fatality is a direct result of drug use.

>>Four months after Woodstock, during a concert at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco, Meredith Hunter was fatally stabbed by a member of the Hells Angels (the group was hired to do security).  An autopsy showed that Hunter, who was knifed after brandishing a revolver, was high on methamphetamines.  There were three other accidental deaths at Altamont.

>>In 1979, at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio, 11 rock fans died trying to get into a Who concert.  The fans heard the band’s sound check and thought the show had started.  Believing they were missing the concert, the throng rushed to get inside.  Entrances were too few and too small resulting in 11 people getting crushed to death.  The tragedy was blamed on festival seating.   That’s an outdated practice of not assigning seats but allowing patrons to sit anywhere they want on a first-come, first-serve basis.

>>In 2000, nine souls were lost during the Roskilde Festival in Denmark.  Nine men were killed when Pearl Jam started playing and the crowd rushed to the front of the stage. 

>>A hundred people perished at a Great White concert in Rhode Island in February of 2003.  Pyrotechnics accidently set the venue on fire.  By the time concert-goers realized the flames weren’t part of the show it was too late.

The above examples (and unfortunately there are more) show that when a lot of people gather in one place, bad things can happen. Throw drugs into the mix and it’s suddenly not a question of if something bad will happen but when. 

In 1996, the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted a study that looked at drug use patterns at major rock concerts.  They looked at data collected at five concerts featuring The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and The Grateful Dead.  The five concerts involved in their study were attended by more than a quarter of a million people.

What they found is about one third of the concert-goers who used a first aid station did so because of “ethanol or illicit drug intoxication.”  Of all the patients treated, nearly half admitted to using drugs or alcohol at the concert venue. 

Those conducting the study believe alcohol and drug use was actually higher than their study indicated.  Since they didn’t actually test for drugs, the researchers believed many participants lied about their sobriety. 

The aforementioned study is nearly 20 years old.  It may not reveal the current climes of rock concerts but it certainly attests to the historical prevalence of narcotics at these types of events. 

To learn what today’s rock concerts are like we don’t need to conduct a study. 

All we need to do is go to a Phish show.



Phish

Phish is a jam band from Burlington, Vermont.  Minus a five-year hiatus in the 2000s, Phish has been one of the world’s best live acts for more than 20 years.  They are the natural evolution of the Sixties phenomenon, and a band already mentioned several times in this article, The Grateful Dead. 

The Dead formed in 1965 in the San Francisco area.  They are a quintessential product of the Sixties’ hippie movement, a seminal jam band, and one of the first rock groups to name their followers.  They called them “Dead Heads.”

Dead Heads were known for following The Grateful Dead around the country and living a Bohemian lifestyle.  They were also known for their copious drug use.  Despite the large number of drugged-out patrons you might find at a Grateful Dead concerts they were relatively mellow. 

“I'd rather work nine Grateful Dead concerts than one Oregon football game. They don't get belligerent like they do at the games." — Police Det. Rick Raynor

Like the Grateful Dead, Phish has its own hardcore fan base.  They are called “Phans.”  These “Phans” aren’t always mellow and they do get belligerent.  The only thing Phans do better than cheering for Phish is getting arrested.


Screen shot of a Google image search for 'Drugs at Phish Concerts'

>>In early March of 2010, during Phish’s three-night stand at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia, police arrested 200 people.  They seized more than $1 million worth of drugs and $68,000 in cash.

>>In mid-June of 2012, Police cuffed 36 people for possession of cocaine, heroin, LSD, marijuana, and MDMA as well as aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and underage drinking.

>>In July of 2013, over a three-day run at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, police made 81 arrests.  All but one was related to drugs.  Also, one concert-goer died from a drug overdose.

>>In late October and early November of 2013, cops arrested 42 people and seized more than $12,000 worth of drugs at a series of Phish concerts in Atlantic City.  All but two of the collars were for drugs.

>>In 2013, during the band’s New Year’s Eve engagement at Madison Square Garden, cops arrested more than 230 concert-goers.  Most of the arrests were for drug possession.  Police seized everything from amphetamine to Xanax.  After Phish’s New Year’s Eve show, an intoxicated fan, who was kicked out of MSG for smoking, stumbled into the subway.  She laid down on the tracks and was run over by a train.

>>Over the years, eight people have died at a Phish concert.  Almost all of the deaths were drug-related.  That number more than doubles if you include Phish fans perishing in auto accidents while leaving the show.

“Make sure you don’t get caught, cops are everywhere,” said the lookout.

The lookout’s two compatriots were selling mushrooms at the southwest corner of 8th Avenue and 33rd Street in New York City. 

Their buyer may have been a Phish fan but he was definitely an undercover officer.  One of the three men arrested in the sting had 424 capsules of MDMA, 71 strips of LSD, and 14 bags of mushrooms in his trousers.

Phish has a reputation amongst rock fans for putting on amazing concerts.  The band also has a reputation amongst law enforcement officials for their brazen, drug-addled fans.  Everyone, including the drug dealers, knows that police are ubiquitously present at a Phish concert.  Yet, few seem to care.  The drugs must go on.

Phish and drugs go together like… well, fish and water.  For many Phans, drugs are as much a part of the show as the music.

“We’re all here to see music that people love, and the drugs and all that are just a part of the experience that everyone is trying to have together.” – Julia Johnson, 21, a senior at George Washington University

At the aforesaid New Year Eve’s concert in New York City, Phish fans passed out pamphlets which not only contained a guide to local area accommodations but reminded concert-goers (and perhaps the police) that “25 grams or less” of marijuana is a mere violation with no jail time (as long as it’s not your third offense).

The pamphlet also pleaded to the band to play at other venues in the Northeast besides MSG.  For one, Phish fans think New York is too expensive and two they want their favorite band to hold their annual New Year’s Eve concerts in a more drug-friendly community.

~ The Types of Drugs at Concerts ~


MDMA

The aforementioned deaths have raised MDMA’s profile as well as being mentioned in songs by popular artists like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Rick Ross, and Miley Cyrus (although she claims she’s singing “Miley” not “Molly”). 

What exactly is MDMA? 

MDMA stands for 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine.  It’s popularly known as “Molly.”  The drug is usually sold in pill form or as a powder and it’s relatively cheap. 

MDMA is sometimes referred to as “ecstasy.”  You’ll often hear, or read, that MDMA is the main ingredient in “ecstasy.”  That’s technically true but the stuff added to MDMA is usually other drugs that increase its potency and/or deadliness.  MDMA and ecstasy are the same thing.

“MDMA,” “Molly,” and “ecstasy” are used interchangeably but “MDMA” and “Molly” connote a lack of adulterants.   Or at least that’s the goal of drug users—to procure pure “MDMA.”

MDMA was first synthesized by Merck in 1912.  In the 1970s, the drug was used in psychotherapy without the support of the FDA.  In 1985, the drug was labeled a “Schedule I substance” meaning it had no medicinal uses and was highly addictive.  In other words, it became illegal.  In case you were wondering, trials are currently underway to see if MDMA can be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety in terminal cancer patients.

Names For MDMA

"Adam"
"Beans"
"Clarity"
“E”
“Ecstasy”
"Hug"
“Lover's Speed”
“Love Drug."
"Molly"
"X"
“XTC”  

Despite the increase in profile, there is evidence that MDMA use has waned.  In the early part of the 21st century, 15 percent of college students said they had used MDMA at least once.  Fast forward to 2012 and only nine percent of college students said that they’ve used the drug. 

According to a survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, from 2001 to 2012, the percentage of 8th graders who tried MDMA fell from 5.2 to 2 percent, among 10th graders it declined from 8 to 5 percent, and among 12th graders it plummeted from 11.7 to 7.2 percent.  

Those findings could mean the use of MDMA has declined or it could mean that today’s youths are more likely to lie about their drug experiences than they were a decade ago.

However, the Drug Abuse Warning Network says that MDMA-related emergency room visits have doubled since 2004.  The DEA will tell you that from 2009 to 2012 some states experienced a one-hundred percent increase in the number of MDMA arrests, emergency room visits, and overdoses. Has MDMA gotten a lot stronger or more dangerous than it was a decade ago?

MDMA is popular at EDM raves and concerts because it’s the thing to do at EDM raves and concerts.  Also, the high it provides it’s conducive for a party-like atmosphere.

“You’re very comfortable when you are rolling; you really connect with people.  Like that girl.  I love that girl… She’s awesome.” – Anonymous 21-year-old at a rave “rolling” on MDMA.

Users often refer to the high Molly produces as a “rolling” experience.  One drug user described it as a “wave of warmth and pleasure.”  In addition, Molly makes the user feel happy and more social.

“They feel good on the drug.  It naturally makes people want to connect to others when they’re on the drug, and in general just creates a sense of openness.  So I think it’s a relatively attractive drug to teens for that reason.” – Dr. Jake Colton, a psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor in Chicago.

Teens and young adults think MDMA is a pure drug and they can use it safely and without fear of addiction.  They also believe that if they drink water while “rolling on Molly” risks are further diminished.  Drinking water helps, but only if you drink as much as you lose though sweating.  One of the side effects of MDMA is it causes the body to retain water. 

Another one of the drug’s side effects is hyperthermia (the body getting overheated).  That alone makes the drug dangerous to anyone dancing at an EDM concert in a sweltering dance hall or attending an outdoor music festival when the mercury is pushing triple-digits.

Despite what many MDMA users believe, the drug can become habit forming.  MDMA targets the same neurotransmitter systems as other addictive drugs.  Yes, there are other drugs more addicting than MDMA, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t get hooked.

There’s another problem with MDMA.  The drug is not sold by reputable retailers who adhere to strict federal guidelines.  MDMA is sold on the streets, by dealers.  Who knows what is actually being mixed with the drug. 

Narcotics known to have been cut with MDMA include caffeine, cocaine, heroin, ketamine, and methamphetamine.

“Anybody who propagates the idea that this is purer than anything else—it’s ridiculous.  It’s a white powder.  What could be more of a question mark?  At least in a tablet someone put some time into putting it together." – Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist and the editor of Ecstasy: The Complete Guide

In June of 2013, Matthew Rybarczyk, 20, took what he thought was MDMA while at a rave on Governor’s Island in New York City.  The substance he actually ingested was methylone, a nasty drug that’s also called Bath Salts, Cloud Nine, Stardust, and Meow Meow.  It doesn’t really matter what you call it.  Methylone killed Rybarczyk all the same.

"It's exactly the same phenomenon that occurred with ecstasy a decade ago.  Ecstasy had terrible reliability and it's the same with Molly. Though it's being marketed as pure MDMA, it's a hoax." – Dr. Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine

Despite what revelers say, there is no safe way to take MDMA.  Pure or not, hydrated or not, experienced or not, it’s still a potentially deadly drug.

Many within the EDM community—from promoters to patrons—are frustrated with their genre being demonized for its association with Molly.  Some fight back by pointing out that more people die at rock concerts than at EDM concerts. 

They’ll argue that Molly is relatively safe and cite a BBC report that in 2011, in the U.K., there were just 27 MDMA related deaths amongst 500,000 ecstasy users.  In 2012, in Boston, “psychostimulants” (the group of drugs MDMA belongs to) failed to make a list that broke down 15,000 emergency room admissions for substance abuse.

MDMA has proponents.  At the end of most articles about an MDMA overdose or an MDMA death, you’ll find comments blaming the victim’s ignorance or accusing the media of over hyping the situation.  They want MDMA to remain an integral part of the electric dance music experience.

“Nowhere in this article does it confirm anything about the type of drug any of these poor souls were taking. MDMA is generally safe in its pure form.  "Appeared to be connected" is shoddy reporting.”  —Reader comment from article More Concert Deaths Linked To Club Drug

“People who die from Molly are either stupid enough to OD or very unlucky. Some people overdo everything. Like everything else, moderation is the key.” —Reader comment from article Concert Deaths: Four Myths About The Drug Molly

Many place burden of drug-related deaths at concerts on promoters for not providing the necessary safeguards to protect ticket holders.  In many cases, promoters ARE to blame but their culpability isn’t criminal.  It’s just the opposite.  It’s lawful.

The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003, sponsored by then Senator Joseph Biden, makes it difficult for organizers to stop drug use at their events.  The reason that it makes stopping drug use so difficult, at least so-called “visible harm-reduction efforts,” is the promoter can be fined or arrested if they know drugs are being used at their event.

To help someone who is high on drugs is acknowledging that drugs are being used at your concert or festival.  Such acknowledgment, which could potentially save lives, may also lead to serious legal and financial woes for the promoter.

“It sucked that this happened.  We don't promote it and it's not allowed, but anytime there's a party atmosphere going on, you always get those people that try to push the limits." – David Grutman, operating partner of the Miami mega-club “LIV”

Many of the large music festivals are staffed with medical professionals working in so-called “safe haven” environments.  That means the medical professional won’t turn you into the cops for admitting that you’ve used drugs. 

In 2004, Ian Gardiner was found dead, in a tent, at a Phish concert.  The tent, which wasn’t his, was near one of the facility’s medical tents.  Officials wonder if he was actually trying to get to the medical tent but in his drug-addled stupor he slipped through the wrong pair of canvas flaps.



Designer Drugs

Designer drugs are made in underground labs to mimic the effects of other narcotics. These drugs, like MDMA, are popular with young concert-goers. Designer drugs are relatively cheap, readily available, and offer attractive highs. Due to those factors, their danger is usually underestimated. 

Synthetic Marijuana
Also known as synthetic pot, fake weed, Spice, K2, and herbal incense, synthetic marijuana is a mix of plant parts and chemicals. It’s marketed as producing the same high as real marijuana but it’s usually far more potent. Side effects include vomiting, rapid heartbeat, and seizures.

Bath Salts
Also known as Ivory Wave, Aura, or Vanilla Sky, Bath Salts are a synthetic stimulant that is either injected, smoked, or snorted. It mimics the effects of cocaine. Side effects include paranoia, psychosis, and suicidal behavior. This drug has been related to several vicious attacks including one where a man high on bath salts chewed off the face of another man.

Smiles
Also known as 2C-I, Smiles is a synthetic hallucinogen and stimulant. It’s sold in liquid, pill, and powder form and produces hallucinations that last for days. Other side effects include nausea, panic, and violent behavior.

You may eschew live music concerts. Furthermore, you may not know a soul that enjoys attending a rock show or an EDM festival. Even if that’s true, that doesn’t mean you’re insulated from the negative effects of drug-related deaths at concerts. Drug-related deaths at concerts cost communities big bucks.

The Gorge Amphitheater is a popular performance venue. It hosts music festivals and concerts by the likes of Phish, Dave Matthews, and Pearl Jam. The beautiful venue, with its breathtaking vista of the Columbia River Gorge, is situated in George, Washington, about two hours east of Seattle. The town is home to around 500 people.

The nearest hospital to the amphitheater, about 15 miles away, is the Quincy Valley Medical Center. Events at the Gorge Amphitheater have taxed the medical facility for years but they reached their breaking point in June of 2013 thanks to the “Paradiso Festival.”

During the two-day electronic dance music extravaganza, more than 120 people visited the center’s emergency room. On a normal weekend the center treats ten.

The majority of the 120 patients were treated for excessive drug or alcohol use. The Quincy Valley Medical Center claims it spent around $100,000 in additional spending and will have to absorb as much as $500,000 in unpaid hospital bills.

"These people come in with false identification, no addresses, no credit cards, no driver's licenses, sometimes no vehicle because a friend who saw them in a difficult situation brought them to the hospital. They are not paying, and we've had to send bills to a collection agency." — Mehdi Merred, administrator at Quincy Valley Medical Center

Federal law prohibits emergency rooms from turning people away. 

The hospital tried to seek financial help from Live Nation, the company that operates the Gorge Amphitheatre. Live Nation only said it would review the situation. The company is under no legal obligation to compensate the county for health care costs although such a provision could be included in future contracts.

The hospital agreed that concerts are good for the community because of the revenue they generate (even though none of that money comes directly to them). They also noted that the increase in patients is unfair to local taxpayers who actually disburse the hospital but may not get prompt service during times when the emergency room is inundated with intoxicated concert-goers.

And of course cocaine, acid and heroine are all still used at concerts as well.

“The EDM culture exists because kids like to get f**ked up and dance.  Right now, this crowd's doing it in electronic music. In 1969, it was called Woodstock." – Anonymous concert business source

Getting tickets for a concert and buying drugs is an expensive night out!



Solutions

Whether at a rock concert, Phish show, festival or EDM show, drug use and overdoses at live music events negatively affects the entire community.  To stop senseless deaths, and to keep down medical costs, a community might haphazardly suggest canceling concerts, at least those of the EDM variety.

Electronic dance music isn’t going away—there’s too much money behind it.  Besides, outlawing such events will force organizers to go underground.  There, shows will have even less oversight then they do now. 

They will become even more dangerous and probably more alluring.

“It’s really unfortunate that people think that by banning events it’s going to end the party or end drug use. It’s just going to move into an underground setting or someone’s house.” — Missi Wooldridge, the executive director of DanceSafe.

One possible solution, mentioned in Steve Knopper’s article “Drugs, Death, and Dance Music” posted on rollingstone.com, is testing concert-goers’ Molly supply.  In Portugal, where recreational use of Molly is decriminalized, many EDM events have testing booths.  While not as prolific as they are in Portugal, you’ll also find them in the U.K. 

Testing kits are available in the States.  DanceSafe, is a nonprofit organization based in Denver, Colorado that aims to increase safety within the EDM community.  They sell a drug testing kit for about $20.  Yet, thanks to the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act it’s illegal for promoters to use them in the U.S.  You can, however, buy one for yourself.

Meghan Ralston, the harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, is a fierce advocate for drug education.  She doesn’t necessarily mean that we should teach young concert-goers to say “no” to drugs.  She means we need to educate the youth on how to safely use them.  Ralston wants to make it legal for promoters to actively help their customers avoid overdosing.

“The potentially harmful consequences of alcohol and other drug use aren't going to change until and unless festival organizers start doing some very basic things.  But many won't—because the fear of being perceived as 'helping' people who use drugs at their events is so great.” – Meghan Ralston from her article “Drugs Happen: Getting Real About Music Festivals”

Raltson advocates informing concert-goers on how to reduce the dangers of the drugs they’re taking through palm cards, messages on “jumbotrons,” and hourly announcements over the venue’s PA system.

Some portion of virtually any large crowd of young people gathered all day will use drugs.  Festival organizers cannot ensure that not a single person takes a single drug during their event.  But they can and should acknowledge reality and take simple, low-cost steps to help save the life of any of their young customers who may make a dumb mistake.

Education.  Testing.  Cancellations.  Policing.  Patrolling.  Making Laws.  Eliminating Laws.  Parent involvement.  Personal responsibility.  It’s likely that the solution to ending drug-related deaths at concerts will involve many approaches, not just one.  It’s also likely that the ultimate solution(s) will be devised and executed by the entire community not just a small portion of it. 

We can argue over what will happen in the future, but history clearly tells us that young people, live music, and drugs go together.  One thing we can all agree on is that we ought to make every effort to ensure live music events are as safe as possible.  Drug-related overdoses and deaths at concerts can be avoided.


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