On one of dance music’s biggest weekends, drug-related deaths caused a major festival to close its gates for the first time in recent dance music history. While the festival deaths were certainly not a new occurrence, the response was, and now the media and Twittersphere are roiling.
Final day of NYC’s Electric Zoo music festival canceled after two drug-related deaths | http://t.co/KWRpcjCciH
— TIME.com (@TIME) September 1, 2013
This scene is amazing because of the music and the people – not drugs. Dance music is about celebrating life.
— Tiësto (@tiesto) September 1, 2013
Fans furious Electric Zoo cancelled after two ravers died: ‘It doesn’t mean everyone else needs to suffer’ http://t.co/4V10V3lqIx
— New York Post (@nypost) September 1, 2013
Let’s just get this out of the way; Some people use drugs to enjoy dance music. There, we said it. You all know it, the media is positive they know it, and with all the recent (bad) publicity, your younger siblings and parents now know it too. While admitting it may have been the hardest part, simply pointing fingers to acknowledge the problem will not solve it.
Before we allow the media to define an entire culture with songs like “Molly,” or “All Gold Everything,” we have to understand that some people use drugs to enjoy dance music, just like some people use drugs to enjoy rock music, or pop music, or rap or basic day to day functions. There are plenty of dance music enthusiasts who have never touched anything resembling MDMA, plenty who tried it once and said “No thanks,” and plenty more who will use it recreationally and never die. Because the truth of the matter is, from a statistical standpoint MDMA will almost certainly not kill you. Ignorance, fake MDMA or the combination of both, however, might.
With a lethal dosage at least double what even the most dedicated raver would take (the 2007 published, “Veterinary Toxicology: Basic and Clinical Principles,” gave an estimated “lethal oral dose for humans [as] 2g”), there are very few deaths caused by ecstasy alone, and far more people die at the hands of alcohol, cigarettes, or pharmaceuticals every year. The National Institute on Drug Abuse acknowledges this, the UK’s DrugScope supports this, and the Center for Disease Control backs it up as well. (The media declined to respond). When used properly the positive and euphoric effects of pure MDMA are well documented – it is even currently being studied for use as a PTSD treatment. The problem is that your MDMA is not pure and uneducated fans are not using it properly and they will continue to not use it properly if something doesn’t change.
In the public dance community, and really in the country as a whole, the “drug policy” has been zero-tolerance. No talking about it, no sharing information about it, and certainly no doing it or allowing it on your premises. But ignoring the reality when it is as glaringly obvious as a neon Where’s Molly? t-shirt has proved to be a larger disservice to the scene than publicly admitting it had a “problem” would have been. A festival was shut down, a media firestorm begun, and two more lives were added to the festival death toll, all partially because it is a bad look for the dance community to talk about drugs.
While DJs are busy saying that music is the drug and festival promoters are figuring out how to distance themselves, some positive discourse is starting, but you may have to dig deep to find it. Amidst the preaching, neck-saving and victim blaming, some industry leaders are trying to save the scene from itself by advocating education, a crucial element missing from the PLUR motto.
Using sites like Erowid or Dance Safe to check your stamp, get pre- and post-roll vitamin regimens or learn more about contraindications can literally be the difference between life and death but, while we’re already being honest, the real truth of the matter is that even if you’ve rolled responsibly for years it is actually impossible to do drugs “safely.” To the naked eye that “Molly” you are getting is just a bag of white powder: With no quality control there is no guarantee that it’s MDMA. As long as drugs are illegal they are unregulated, and as long as they are unregulated your local Walter White can fill them with any number of pollutants – lethal chemicals like Methylone or low-grade meth-amphetamines and cleaning agents included.
During 2012’s EDC Week, one festival-goer made headlines by crawling through the bars of her hotel room and plunging to her MDMA-caused death (so said the headlines). The girl had taken what were sold as ecstasy pills for the festival, begged her friends to leave as she was suffering paranoid delusions, and was instead packed in a cab and sent on her way. Her friends never saw her alive again, and her mother and the media blamed “ecstasy,” regardless of the fact the cause of death had not been announced at time of print.
While an extreme and horribly sad case, paranoid delusions are not a side effect of MDMA and many in the dance world assumed her pills were cut with something – unfortunately, if there was an autopsy, its results were never printed to confirm or deny the allegations (a rather lazy and damning journalistic trend that continues to this day). While we’ll never know for sure, this case is just one of literally thousands of examples of good people taking bad pills and suffering the consequences, one of which is further demonizing the dance community at large. Yet what is almost more striking about this example is that the girl would likely be alive today if she and her friends had been properly educated.
If you are going to “find Molly” regardless of the risks, that is your personal (albeit illegal) decision. But deciding to educate yourself on drug use best practices can save everyone heartache. If your friends are rolling, do not leave them; assign a sober sitter. If it is hot out, encourage everyone in your party to drink water and avoid alcohol. If you haven’t already, read up on dosages; research the chemical you are about to introduce into the most important thing you own — your body. If you’re already flying high, chill out on another dose. If it hasn’t kicked in yet, give it a minute before taking more. If you don’t recognize what someone is selling, research it or don’t buy it. These are the messages that need to be sent, not simply “don’t do drugs.” Drugs are bad, sure, but they are so much worse when they are shrouded in misinformation-breeding silence or speculative headlines. It is in that state where deaths happen – possibly even the death of dance music as a pop culture phenomenon.
MDMA is a statistically small drug with an out of proportion media attention rate. It is celebrated in song, labeled as a killer in print, and whispered about in classrooms and dance floors. It is the drug most commonly associated with dance music, and the drug that may bring dance music down. Now that Molly has officially been found, it is time for the dance community to begin a serious and honest discourse, to educate its fans and acknowledge its problems. Let’s not wait for another death to start the dialogue.