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Large-scale music festivals in America are big business because they inject millions of dollars into local economies. As a result, cities across the country clamor to host these multi-day concerts. An estimated 32 million people attended at least one music festival last year, according to Nielsen Music, and nearly half of those were millennials.
Drug taking has been a part of music festivals going back to before Woodstock. Festival promoters, the DEA, and local authorities have all tried to police the situation but to no avail.
So if it can’t be stopped, at least it can be made safer. And that’s the goal of several organizations that seek to provide harm reduction services in lieu of an outright ban on drugs.
The U.S. government and local law enforcement agencies have largely kept zero-tolerance drug policies in place at music festivals, though the anti-drug rules have failed miserably.
By hook or crook, concertgoers smuggle their drugs in, and as is bound to happen, a certain percentage will have medical emergencies and even fatal overdoses.
In 2015 alone, there were 3 reported deaths due to drugs in the last six months of the year.
What are the Most Common Drugs at Music Festivals?
- Psilocybin (mushrooms)
One of the main reasons music festivals can be dangerous places to use drugs is the environment. Many festivals take place during the hottest summer months where participants are packed shoulder to shoulder, often dancing for hours in the extreme heat.
Drugs like MDMA limit the body’s ability to regulate temperature, and users can develop hyperthermia, which is over-heating. Left untreated, internal tissues start to deteriorate, organs fail and victims can die.
These days most music festivals, such as Coachella, which takes place in desert valley in Southern California, provide cooling centers. These are tents where concert attendees can cool down, hydrate and take a break.
Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) told Rolling Stone Magazine that when it comes to taking drugs, “There is no safe dose because medical emergencies depend on an interaction between temperature, dose and environment.”
In the face of these challenges, harm reduction, a set of practical strategies aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug use, is a trend that’s gaining momentum.
Festival promoters have been reluctant to work with harm reduction organizations in the past, believing that law enforcement might see it as a tacit acceptance of illegal substances.
Both organizations, and others like them, provide educational and environmental services at festivals in an effort to limit negative and fatal drug interactions.
Founded in 1998, DanceSafe offers free on-site “pill testing,” which informs users of the primary composition of the drug.
For instance, MDMA, aka “molly,” is often cut with other more dangerous stimulants. Individuals who opt for the “pill tests” are then armed with information about what they’re subjecting their bodies to.
DanceSafe Also Provides The Following Services
- A non-judgmental first point of contact to risky and challenging situations
- Honest, fact based information on drug effects, negative side effects, and potential harm
- Free water and electrolytes to prevent dehydration
- Safe sex tools to avoid unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STDs
- Free earplugs to prevent hearing loss
- Coordination with promoters on safety first approaches
The Zendo Project
The Zendo Project narrows its focus to psychedelic harm reduction. By providing safe and supportive environments during difficult psychedelic and psychological experiences, volunteers can help calm people down while they’re in a “non-ordinary” state of mind.
“Best case scenario,” says Linnae Ponte, director of the Zendo Project, “we keep people from going to jail or the hospital.” On the festival scene, these spaces have come to be known as “chill-out tents.”
As society’s stance on illicit drugs evolves, harm reduction advocates appear to have opted for an “if you can’t beat them, at least try to keep them safe” approach.
Law enforcement officials, at least in a few places, see the benefit of not clogging their system with non-violent, otherwise law abiding music lovers that made poor decisions.
Perhaps as the shame and stigma of drug abuse and addiction is lifted, more people will feel the freedom to seek help and get treatment when they need it the most.