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The Wilting Flower Child: Music Festivals Steel Themselves in the Face of Increasing Risks

Ever since Richie Havens strummed out the first riff at the legendary 1969 granddaddy of all music festivals at Woodstock, N.Y., drug use, has been as synonymous with live music…

Ever since Richie Havens strummed out the first riff at the legendary 1969 granddaddy of all music festivals at Woodstock, N.Y., drug use, has been as synonymous with live music as the instruments themselves. But in 2019 wild tales from the dope decade seem frivolous, tame even, compared to modern nightmarish misadventures in intoxication. 

The breadth of choices when one is deciding which substance will be accompanying them to a concert has expanded significantly to include some of the most clinical and harmful narcotics on the market.

Behind the far more pedestrian marijuana usage, “rolling” (the use of MDMA, commonly referred to as “esctascy”) is the most popular form of enhanced enjoyment at music festivals. Methylenedioxymethamphetamine is an age-old designer drug that typically draws in users with its intense psychoactive effects. Another artifact that survived through the ’80s to amp up party goers in 2019 is the Devil’s dandruff (cocaine). A 2018 study noted that 34 percent of surveyed festivalgoers admit to indulging in the infamous white powder within the previous 12 months. 

However, perhaps the most troubling drug to rear its head at music festivals nationwide is opioids. It is no secret that America is in the grips of an opioid epidemic, and concert venues are no exception to this tense climate. 

All horror stories considered, damage control for opioid’s nasty side effects has become a crucial target for many medical professionals. 

A new-to-market counter to increasingly prevalent opioid overdoses is Narcan. A brand name for the opioid-overdose antidote naloxone, NARCAN is available to adults from pharmacies in Michigan as a nasal spray. Naloxone overpowers opioids, serving as a shield for vulnerable brain receptors. While the antidote is no substitute for medical care, the availability of these easy-to-use disposable nozzles could mean life or death to overdose victims. A recently launched campaign led by Sarah Kenney of the Ingham County Opioid Abuse and Prevention Commission has been distributing Narcan kits in the Lansing region by the hundreds. While this treatment has not broken into the concert scene as of yet, it is possible that this powerful tool in fighting drug-related injuries and death may be on its way to festival grounds. 

Michigan festivals are certainly not the outlier when it comes to dangerous drug use. The state, much like the rest of the country, has experienced the woes of irresponsible drug use at what would otherwise be perfectly joyous events. In 2016, a Southfield man drowned in Lucky Lake while attending the nearby Lakes of Fire Festival. An autopsy showed he was under the influence of a cocktail of drugs. Just a week later, a 22-year-old from Lansing died after ingesting cocaine, ketamine and methamphetamine while attending Electric Forest, the famous Michigan woodland electronic dance music festival that also serves as one of the nation’s largest outings. Since 2016 festivals have appropriately adopted increased responsibility for their attending audiences; Electric Forest 2018 experienced zero drug-related deaths on its festival grounds.  

It would seem that nowadays any venue booking a live act is leaving itself open to an increasingly bizarre wave of drug crises, and it is important that local venues prepare for everything. Lansing’s own Prime Music Festival, though fairly green in taking root in the region, has been sure to take every precaution when addressing the health and well-being of its yearly festivalgoers. 

“We take our festival experiences very seriously,” said Cristian Daraban, marketing director at Prime Social Group. “Our team works heavily with local law enforcement for every one of our festivals.”

Daraban described the backup they receive from Lansing law enforcement as being largely preventative when it concerns recreational drugs possibly finding their way into Prime’s event. 

“We also work closely with local medical teams,” said Daraban. “Every event has an ambulance on wait so that medical staff is readily available for any incident. All Prime staff are equipped with walkie talkies and if someone looks to be at risk, we call the incident out, check on the individual and get them any of the care they require.” 

Above all else, Prime puts an emphasis on working with the Lansing community to prevent and manage possible dangerous drug use at its event. By meeting frequently with the venue and local authorities, Prime stands as a strong model for producing a safer festival environment through mutually beneficial collaboration.   


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