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Author Topic: Meet the People Who Want to Make It Safer to Take Drugs at Festivals  (Read 4480 times)

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Meet the People Who Want to Make It Safer to Take Drugs at Festivals

Gabriel Olsen/Getty

Earlier this month, two teenage girls died at the HARD Summer music festival in Ponoma, California, reportedly from "suspected drug overdoses." Less than two weeks earlier, an autopsy confirmed suspicions that Nicholas Austin Tom, a 24-year-old Californian who died at the Electric Daisy Carnival in June, died due to MDMA intoxication.

The deaths are only the latest in a string of drug-related fatalities linked to EDM concerts in recent years – part of a trend that's led to a major shift in the live music industry. Some festivals have responded to the mounting pressure by bending toward zero-tolerance drug policies: After two people died at Electric Zoo in 2013, the festival required the following year's attendees to watch a D.A.R.E.-like anti-Molly PSA and stepped up law enforcement efforts with drug-sniffing dogs and heightened gate security.

Following the deaths at HARD Summer, one Los Angeles County official went so far as to suggest a temporary ban on raves. At the same time, some organizations have taken another approach: acknowledging the prevalence of drugs in the scene and working to integrate harm reduction services on-site at festivals. Two of the most prolific such groups are DanceSafe, a drug-education organization with a bent towards checking the chemical makeup of drugs, and the Zendo Project, an initiative that provides safe spaces for people undergoing unpleasant psychedelic experiences.

Since its inception more than 15 years ago, DanceSafe has provided harm reduction services like clean snorting straws and condoms to partiers across the country.

The group has also dedicated itself to raising awareness about the environmental conditions that can lead to medical emergencies for MDMA users. These emergencies are rare compared to other drugs, and in most cases, they are preventable; while there is no comprehensive national data on MDMA-related fatalities, it is generally understood that a very small percentage of use results in death.

The most common cause of MDMA-related death is hyperthermia, or over-heating.

Dehydration and over-hydration can both be risk factors as well. Experts advise that users of the drug should be mindful of cooling down and staying hydrated, but focus on consuming electrolytes rather than large quantities of water, which can cause more harm than good.

While hyperthermia plays a key role in most MDMA-related medical emergencies, some deaths appear to be linked to the drug alone. Why does the drug kill some people and not others? It remains unclear whether dose is a significant predictor of fatality. A 2001 study noted that "The toxic or even fatal dose range overlaps the range of recreational dosage." Rick Doblin, the founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), puts it in stark terms: "There is no safe dose," Doblin tells Rolling Stone, because medical emergencies depend on an "interaction between temperature, dose and the environment."

Despite these questions, information on the environmental factors that contribute to the majority of MDMA-related deaths is readily available. Mitchell Gomez, DanceSafe's national outreach director, cites risks of heat stroke and dehydration: "When there is not enough shade and not enough water and places to sit down, that is where we see the largest chunk of problems."

Highlighting the environmental component of MDMA deaths is the Phase-II FDA clinical trial on MDMA-assisted therapy for people suffering from treatment-resistant PTSD. Of the more than 1,000 patients who participated in studies for this and other trials, there were no deaths and no cases of hyperthermia. In fact, temperature increases were so insignificant that MAPS – the group running the current PTSD study – is seeking approval to stop monitoring body temperatures.

"The risk profiles of MDMA or any psychedelics taken in a therapeutic setting are fundamentally different than the risk profile when these drugs are taken in a recreational setting," Doblin tells Rolling Stone. Outside of the lab, users may be in dangerously hot environments, using other substances in addition to MDMA, engaging in rigorous physical activity or not consuming enough electrolytes. DanceSafe warns against mixing other drugs with MDMA, particularly stimulants that cause similar physical reactions, as well as alcohol, which can increase dehydration. (From a recreational point of view, alcohol can also interfere with the high of MDMA.)

Experts advise against mixing other drugs with MDMA, and stress the importance of staying cool and hydrated.

Universal Images Group/Getty

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« Last Edit: September 01, 2015, 12:23:29 AM by Chipper »
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