Bridging the Opportunity Divide

For Rave Promoters, Overdose Education Tops Drug Enforcement

November 11, 2014
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For Rave Promoters, Overdose Education Tops Drug Enforcement
Molly, which comes as a white powder, can give users a happy, relaxed feeling, especially when they are engaged in repetitive behaviors like dancing. Agung Parameswara/Getty Images
Following a spat of drug-induced deaths and hospitalizations, EDM festivals are rethinking how they address the dangers of drug use.

It was a dark weekend back in August 2013, with a lot of die-hard EDM (electronic dance music, to the uninitiated) fans extremely bummed out about one for their favorite summer events getting canned a day early. The reason? MDMA, aka “molly” or ecstasy, had claimed two lives at NYC’s Electric Zoo.

The same month, another died at the House of Blues in Boston. This year, there has been two more deaths due to the designer drug in Las Vegas and Los Angeles and, according to BuzzFeed, an astonishing 50 people required medical attention at Boston’s TD Garden in June after getting sick from drug use.

So it’s no surprise that this year’s Electric Zoo attendees arrived to find drug dogs patrolling and sniffing at the festival’s entrance, augmenting the familiar pat-down and search process. “It’s very difficult as a producer of large-scale events to control the decisions that people are making prior to even entering the show,” Jennifer Forkish, Vice President of Communications for Insomniac Events, which runs Electric Daisy Carnival, tells The Fader. “If we could stop everyone from making poor choices, we would. But we can’t.”

Lack of law enforcement at Electric Zoo has never been the problem. Even then-mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013 said the Electric Zoo had “as good procedures as we could think of.” And there were no shortages of arrests at the other shows that drew headlines: at the Las Vegas event 29 people were arrested and at the two-day L.A. festival, more than 150 people were.

So festival promoters are looking for other ways to stem the idea of drug abuse at their events.

Dr. Andrew Bazos, Chairman of the SFX Medical and Safety Committee, is pushing to enhance two non-security related measures that have worked in Europe: harm-reduction and medical. Both the Electric Zoo and Electric Daisy Carnival are on board, handing out water, providing cool-down areas and hiring medical workers to provide discreet aid to anyone that needs it. They’re also investing in making sure everybody is 18 or older, as many of the victims of late have been minors.

As Robbie Kowal of SunsetSF promotions puts it, “There’s no security measure you can take when a kid who’s ignorant does something he shouldn’t before he walks in. So we have to educate them how to do these things safely.”

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