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[ Science and Tech ]

Last Dance: What You Didn’t Know About Recent Festival Drug Deaths

By:Haanim Bamadhaj Four of us packed into an old Mercedes cab with water bottles cut off to be disposable glasses filled with caipirinha. We were all pumped for the last day of Future Music Festival Asia. The mood deflated quickly when we started seeing Facebook posts that it was cancelled. Then a moment of silent disbelief that someone had died at the festival the day before. At the risk of exposing my age, a friend asked recently, “When we partied, nobody died, right?” Rumours say people die at all festivals, something I haven’t been able to confirm. So let’s just say publicized deaths at festivals from Ecstasy or MDMA (Molly) has increased a great deal. The list below is not exhaustive: – Future Music Festival Asia, Malaysia March 2014: 6 people (A State Of Trance Stage) – A State Of Trance, Jakarta March 2014: 3 people – Glastonbury Festival, UK June 2014: 2 people – Electric Daisy Carnival, Las Vegas: 1 person – Pemberton Music Festival, Canada July 2014: 1 person – Harbourlife Festival, Sydney November 2014: 1 person – Electric Zoo Festival, New York Feb 2015: 2 people – Outbreak Festival, UK Feb 2015: 1 person – A State Of Trance, Sydney Feb 2015: 1 person In Sydney, when a 19 year old died of multiple organ failure after taking 1 and a half ecstasy pills, her grieving best friend was arrested for supplying the drugs to her. In trying to stop these deaths, the immediate grief and fear-fuelled reaction is look for someone to blame. But will that stop party deaths? What Your Brain Doesn’t Tell You Dr. Nadesan, Professor of Forensic Pathology at University of Malaya who performed postmortems on three of the six who collapsed at FMFA2014 said to me on the phone, “They didn’t die from drug overdose.” Later he continued that some of them had very low doses of weed and derivatives of MDMA (Amphetamines) in their blood stream. MDMA has been used in clinical treatment for Post Traumatic Disorder and gained a small following among psychiatrists in the 70s and 80s for use in psychotherapy. The feeling of euphoria and enhanced sensory perception made the drug hugely popular in the club scene because it made everyone your best friend.

 But it does also cause a host of post-use side effects that can last up to a week — anxiety, sadness and reduced mental abilities etc. Prolonged use has seen some admitted for clinical depression due to depleted seratonin. Seratonin is the chemical in the brain that makes you happy. No seratonin means no more happiness, forever and ever. Pic from Zazzle.com So what did those 6 kids at FMFA die of? Deadmau5 might say bad music. But Prof Nadesan says, “ The three deaths were clearly due to Heat Stroke”. Typically the mistakes are sun exposure (even hours before), being physically active (dancing) in a crowd of hot bodies, not drinking water, wearing clothes that don’t breathe and then throw in Malaysian 99% humidity. What happens is your body temperature rises so much and fast that the brain’s thermometer (hypothalamus) stops working and you stop sweating so your body temperature rises even more and you bleed internally and/or your organs shut down and you die quite quickly. You’ve been in the sun most of the day, after sunset you’re dancing among 20,000 sweaty humans, the bar is far away so water is, well, far away. Guess who wins? Dehydration and dancing in ecstasy wins. So you have that friend who shoves a big bottle of cold water in your face all day and night, you’re surrounded by free drinking water station, you’re looking out for symptoms of overheating, you don’t have a sweat rash that’s impedes sweating, you’re wearing almost nothing, you leave the crowd to chill frequently and you even have a tablet to stick up your butt if you get too hot. Will you still die? Not likely, but there’s still a chance because you’re fucked up on drugs and dancing is too much fun. What Is It? Pic from Buzzfeed.com who took it from Facebook.com A common sight at Malaysian street markets is a man with a microphone spinning a story about the vials of oil and powder laid on a simple blanket next to him. If he holds a vial up to you and says it’ll be fun to drink, wouldn’t you ask with great skepticism, “But what is it?”. If you’re exchanging money with said stranger with some of that powder or oil, how sure can you be that it isn’t corn oil or ground clown balls. In advanced countries testing options are available for pills and powder in clubs and at festivals. Should Asia follow suit to avoid poisoning from the youthful desire to get high? Banning events will not curb drug-use. A State Of Trance has an online radio show and offers live feeds of their festivals. What’s stopping young teens from dying at home or in a park like Martha Fernbeck did. Martha’s motheris now lobbying to legalise the drug that killed her only child “This will help to safeguard our children … by putting doctors and pharmacists, not dealers, in control of drugs.” Martha took a pill that was 91% pure while the average is 58%. “Martha’s online history revealed she had meticulously researched the risks of the drug and opted to buy its most expensive variant, assuming the better quality it was, the safer it would be.” Martha was 15 years old. Globally, 35 out of every 100k deaths are alcohol-related, only 4 in every 100k are drug-related. Is it possible that legalization will make drugs more accessible and thus cause more addiction, illness and death? Portugal legalized all drugs over 10 years ago. So now if you’re caught on or with drugs you’re treated by doctors, not locked up by police. As a result drug abuse has been cut by half. As you read more, you realize that the main concern is intravenous heroin use. So what about party drugs? “Party drugs are rare — in causing death” says Palani Narayanan, a Harm Reduction Consultant who has been working in drug-outreach all over Asia for over 20 years. Criminalisation means people pre-load (take lots before they enter a party), can never know what’s in it, are not getting advice at parties and are afraid to get help when they start feeling bad. Maxing It Out Ecstasy, Happy 5, Speed, Ketamine, Alcohol, Weed, Muscle Relaxant, Tobacco, Tiger Balm, water and no food. This would be a typical hard-core raver weekend. But your body isn’t a credit card, sometimes the installments don’t take. Apparently people are now snorting MDMA. It’s fast, it hits and you never know how much you got. Olivia Rotondo’s famous last words at Electric Zoo Festival were, “I just took 6 hits of Molly”. She said this to a Medical Worker on site before collapsing into a seizure. The 19-year old who died at A State Of Trance in Sydney this year was playing a game of who can eat more ecstasy. Behaviour like this shows a tragic lack of awareness and education on how to be safe on drug (if you must take them). Echoing reports in Malaysia, parents didn’t know their kids were at parties until they received the heart-breaking calls from hospital. Would open discussions within families prevent such deaths? Party Safe I don’t condone drug use, at all. But I know that getting adventurous young people who feel invincible to abstain from drugs is as likely as them abstaining from sex. So let’s get real. We need to talk about it and understand the problems. Governments will lag behind, but we can take care of our friends and practice safe partying. Drink water, don’t forget to pee, stick with friends, start with a small amount, don’t overload, do research on how to deal with bad trips, avoid alcohol, don’t mix chemicals and never buy from strangers. But that’s lot to think about if you’re looking for a fun night out. So I guess the question has to first be, is it worth it? The Golden Bonanza Question So the question on everyone’s lips — who’s fault is it and is it fair that FMFA was cancelled 2 years in a row? My very simplistic answer to a very complex question is it’s everyone’s fault. As a community of people who love music, dancing and festivals, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves if we want to take drugs. Even if we don’t, we should know how to help when someone’s in trouble. All festivals are very clear that they don’t want drugs at their festivals, FMFA had huge signs to remind you of that. But didn’t stop the 6 who died and 18 who were hospitalised from taking drugs. And they weren’t the only ones amongst the 55,000 attendees. If there are no festivals, they will do it elsewhere . The only way to reduce party death is by educating ourselves and everyone involved in the party scene. That includes the government, licensing bodies, teachers and parents; not just festival organisers, medical staff on site and all of us who attend. It couldn’t have helped FMFA’s case when hospitalisation and drug arrests at Future Music Festival Australia hit the news just weeks before FMFA was going to happen in Singapore. A government not famous for taking risks. It remains to be seen just how deep the Livescapes’s pockets are, but 2 closures in a row would typically bankrupt a festival organizer. This is a crying shame, because the largest parties stop, but the party deaths don’t. Sloppy citations: www.drugabuse.gov, www.who.int, www.dancesafe.org, www.livescience.com,www.smh.com.au, www.forbes.com,www.smh.com.au, www.huffingtonpost.com