Summer Music Festivals Cracking Down On Drug Use

By McCarton Ackerman 06/17/14

From the Bonnaroo to the Electric Zoo, festival organizers are taking no chances.

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In the wake of last year’s four concert-related deaths due to Molly, organizers of summer concert festivals are taking no chances when it comes to risking a repeat occurrence.

Festivals ranging from Tennessee’s hippie fest Bonnaroo to New York City’s Electronic Zoo are now employing additional pat-downs, police dogs, and other extra measures for drug screening. Medical tents with doctors, nurses, and EMT’s will be placed on site and Electric Zoo is also placing amnesty bins throughout their festival so that drugs can be discarded anonymously.

The final day of Electric Zoo was canceled last year after two concertgoers died from a mixture of Molly and other unregulated synthetic stimulants. Dr. Andrew Bazos, medical supervisor for show organizer SFX Entertainment, acknowledged that “how to be healthy has unfortunately been related to what happened at Zoo last year. We are redoubling our efforts at the gate.”

But others believe that drug use at festivals is simply unavoidable and the primary message should therefore be about safe drug use. "Drugs have always been a big part of the scene and always will be," said Amy Raves, a Los Angeles-based rave advocate. “These kids love Molly, they love Ecstasy. So I tell them to go get a test kit and shave a little off and make sure that's really what it is. I teach them the warning signs. What to look out for. To stay hydrated, to not overheat.”

Other health organizations like DanceSafe will also offer drug-checking services for Ecstasy users. However, the efforts to curb drug use are counterbalanced by the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003, a federal law that can hold accountable any company, manager or individual who knowingly allows drug use on their premises. Because the anti-drug posters at festival sites can imply that drug use will be present there, Raves said it becomes difficult to “hand out fliers to people and say 'Here, this Ecstasy, this is what you're taking, please be careful.'”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.