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Drugs, Death and EDM: How To Stay Safe And Sober At Music Festivals

In response to two more overdose deaths at the Hard Summer music festival, county officials have placed a temporary ban on electronic music dance (EDM) festivals within Los Angeles County.

The victims, both under the age of 20, died as a direct result of suspected drug overdose.

An Obvious and Deadly Trend

The Hard Summer festival certainly isn’t the only EDM event to see such tragic results. In 2010, the death of a 15-year-old girl at the Electric Daisy Carnival, an EDM festival, in Los Angeles triggered a similar response from county officials.

Since the early 2000s, electro-dance music has moved from the basements and warehouses of underground raves to huge destination festival events. According to International Music Summit, 1.4 million tickets to EDM events were available last year. This is a ten-fold increase since 2007.

However, the explosion of EDM festival popularity, coupled with festival-related tragedies, is disconcerting to both the parents of young concertgoers and public health officials. Unfortunately, it seems like there are more questions than answers at this point. Are these growingly popular events a public safety issue? Is a music festival safe enough for my child to attend?

The Link Between Education and Accountability

An overwhelming number of the drug overdoses at EDM events are the direct result of MDMA that is cut (combined) with other dangerous substances. In response, the harm-reduction organization DanceSafe set up a booth at the Electric Forest music festival and provided free water, earplugs and condoms to festival attendees.
Audience with hands in the air at a music festivalDanceSafe also gave concertgoers free drug-testing kits that could detect the presence of harmful chemicals or substances secretly added to MDMA (molly, ecstasy).

You might think this life-saving act would have been welcomed by the concert promoters…but you’d be wrong. Believe it or not, DanceSafe was ordered to close their booth and leave the vendor’s area. To the concert promoters, supplying the test kits suggests their compliance with illicit drug use, again holding promoters accountable.

So, if both education and harm-reduction measures breed unwanted accountability for concert organizers, what safety measures can be – or should be – available to concertgoers?

Music Festival Responsibility and Safety

Although the recent tragedy at Hard Summer has spurred reaction from public officials, like so many other issues regarding drug use, the resulting public policies will likely have a limited effect.

The rising overdose toll serves as a wake-up call and its message is simple: You can’t rely on concert promoters to keep the fans safe, especially when drugs are involved. Safety begins at home and everyone has an important role to play. If you’re ready to get serious about music festival safety, the following tips will help you get started.

Tips for Parents

  • Know the people in your loved one’s group of concertgoers. Although meeting other attendees is inevitable, his group of core friends affects group mentality and decision-making.
  • Talk to him about the dangers of drug use, especially in a festival setting. Prescription medications and illicit drugs containing other harmful substances are very real dangers. Make sure he understands this.
  • Make sure he’s well provisioned. If the group is going to a festival with on-site camping, make sure they have plenty of food and water. Medical emergencies can quickly occur as a result of dehydration and the overpriced commodities available onsite.
  • Set up a time to contact him. Whether it’s everyday, in the mornings, halfway through, when they arrive or just before leaving, that phone call enacts a responsibility for him to follow.

Tips for Concertgoers

  • Don’t accept substances from strangers at the festival, whether it’s a drink or a drug. Most drug dealers do not care, or even know, how the substance will affect you. Dealers only care about money.
  • Map out the emergency care centers. Every large festival has several of these stations and most operate day and night. If you begin to feel “not okay,” get to one of the stations quickly. If it’s dehydration, they’ll give you water or an IV. If it’s something else, the medical professionals will know what’s wrong. They are there to help.
  • Drink plenty (plenty) of water. Many of the senseless overdoses occur due to a combination of drug-related dehydration, dancing and summer heat.
  • If you feel uncomfortable in any situation, leave. There are plenty of other things you can do at these major music festivals. Find another atmosphere that makes you feel comfortable.
  • Meet the sober organizers at booths like Soberoo and Sober Ball. You’d be surprised how much fun – memorable fun – they have at the festivals.


Additional Reading: Overdose Prevention: Don’t Wait Until it’s too Late