Los Angeles County officials have responded to festival-related drug deaths at Los Angeles’ HARD Summer Festival last year (and others across the country) by deciding on measures to prevent festival-related deaths in 2016. Notably, the LA County Board of Supervisors banned festivals from the county’s Fairgrounds space, but not the entire county. Festivals (music events attracting more than 10,000 people) will be approved on a case-by-case basis.
The Electronic Music Task Force—a group of police public health, and fire department officials—also issued recommendations on how to improve festival safety, which the board accepted. While the recommendations include “zero-tolerance” policies around drug use (as well as drug-sniffing dogs and undercover police officers), the task force also recommends several policies that are pretty sensible and likely to reduce festival-goers’ risks:
1. Keep people hydrated
One crucial recommendation to the LA County Supervisors is that free water be readily available to attendees. Dehydration is a major contributor to accidental drug deaths at festivals, and “ensuring sufficient” drinking water by entrances, stages, and via roaming vendors also selling food and other beverages could help reduce emergencies. The recommendations also reference the sale of drinks containing electrolytes, which play an important role in dehydration.
2. Let people cool down
Most “molly”-related deaths are related to overheating, and the safety of participants who use drugs in these settings is contingent upon their ability to stay cool. The task force recommends that festivals:
“Allow attendees to remain at a designated space in the venue for 60 to 120 minutes (or as needed) after the scheduled conclusion of the event for a cool down/sober up period with soft music, house lights on, and food/non-alcoholic beverages available for purchase.”
That “easily-identifiable” cooling stations are recommended to be set up near each stage—in addition to signage indicating the locations of cool-down spots, free water and medical stations—is crucial. Medical services should be at no cost to those who fall ill, the task force says.
3. Amnesty zones
“Amnesty boxes” for ditching drugs near the door without law enforcement intervention are included in the recommendations, as well as the important provision that the contents of the amnesty boxes should be offered-up to the Department of Public Health for potential testing of the drugs. Since molly is often not MDMA, this would help health officials to understand exactly what drugs are being ingested in these environments, enabling them to respond better. Even more helpful would be allowing for on-site drug-checking—testing drugs for the presence of substances like MDMA and other chemicals often sold in its place—but this currently seems unlikely.
4. Encourage “Good Samaritans”
The task force advises event organizers to “provide clearly marked messaging and information” on California’s Good Samaritan law, which protects people who call 911 to report a drug-related emergency from drug charges. As the recommendations note, this would “encourage attendees who are feeling sick or intoxicated (or whose friends are feeling sick or intoxicated) to ask law enforcement, security, or medical staff for help without the fear of being arrested.”
5. Evidence-based education
The task force says that those seeking to throw a festival should work with the Department of Health to build partnerships and distribute “evidence-based educational and informational materials on alcohol and drug use.” If implemented with practical guidance to risks, rather than “Just Say No” messaging, this could be a big opportunity for festivals to raise awareness about how to mitigate risks
If all of these recommendations, in addition to one to provide on-site emergency room physicians to offer quick responses to emergencies, are followed through, LA County could save lives. It would set a precedent for how to hold a music festival that accepts the reality that some drugs will be used, prioritizing the safety of attendees.
You can find more information here about the popular festival drug molly, and how people who decide to use it can stay safer.