Everything You Need to Know About Drug Safety at Music Festivals

Music festivals are one of the great things about summer. There is nothing better than getting out there in the crowd with a bunch of friends and listening to live music under the bright blue sky. While everyone is kicking back and relaxing on the lawn, you might even discover some new tunes to add to your favorites list.

But, just like at any other public event, safety is always a concern at music festivals. While you’re out there to enjoy yourself, there are a lot of ways the day could end badly. It’s a good idea to know the scene and take some precautions, so nothing ruins your perfect summer day at a music festival.

call today learn more view our programs

Drug Use at Music Festivals

Though patterned after the most famous music festival of the baby boomer generation, Woodstock 1969, today’s music festivals have come a long way. In most areas there are zoning rules requiring special permits for large outdoor gatherings. There are also safety concerns about noise pollution and traffic impeding emergency vehicles.

music festival progress

Most towns and cities require some sort of security measures, like an increased police presence or private security forces, during festivals. Despite all the precautions taken, music festivals can still be dangerous places, and drugs have a lot to do with that.

A historic review of music festivals turns up these seven as the deadliest:

Electric Daisy Carnival: Los Angeles banned this festival after a fifteen-year-old died in 2010 from an overdose of ecstasy. In 2011, in Dallas, Texas, another teenager died and several people rushed to the hospital due to drugs, alcohol and heat.

Woodstock: The three-day music festival that transformed Bethel, New York into the third-largest city in New York State in August 1969 was not as harmonious as advertised. One man and one teenager died during the event. The man died of a heroin overdose, but the cause of death for the teenager wasn’t divulged.

Altamont Speedway Free Festival: Held in 1969 as the west coast version of Woodstock, this free concert, headlined by the Rolling Stones, Santana and Jefferson Airplane, caused several deaths. Two festival attendees died in hit-and-run accidents, one was stabbed by a member of the Hell’s Angels and a fourth drowned in a drainage ditch.

Roskilde Festival: Held annually in Denmark, this rock music festival turned deadly in 2000 when nine men were killed. Eight were crushed by falling equipment and a ninth involved in the accident died several days later. Pearl Jam was performing at the time.

Mawaine Festival: Featuring acts like Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and Kylie Minogue, this festival held in Morocco celebrates world music. In 2009, eleven people died at the annual festival in a stampede at the end of the concert.

Wings: In 2003, suicide bombers attacked the Wings music festival in Russia. A total of 16 people were killed and 60 were injured.

Love Parade: 21 people died at this German music festival in 2010. Police closed an access tunnel when the festival reached full capacity. When they turned the remaining crowd, a stampede ensued. After this tragedy, The Love Parade became a thing of the past.

Emergency room visits are also a good indicator of the danger level at music festivals. Most medical emergencies at music festivals are a result of drugs, alcohol, heat exhaustion, or a combination there of. In 2015, doctors in LA called for a ban of music festivals, citing the volume of patients who ended up in the emergency room.

music festival emergencies

In August of that same year, the Hard Music Festival resulted in transporting 49 people to the emergency rooms of various local hospitals. To put this into perspective, one of the hospitals has 50 emergency room beds. They treated 28 patients from the music festival alone.

Doctors compared the level of trauma of these music festival attendees to that of emergency room visits from other public events. Their concern was that most of the festival attendees were in extreme danger from drug activities. The patients they see from other events that draw big crowds are less medically compromised than those from music festivals.

In the last five years, doctors at LA hospitals have seen extreme medical emergencies from music festival attendees. Some are combative and require extra staff to restrain them. Others are so sick they have to be admitted to intensive care. One group of teenagers came in with convulsions and heart attacks. Some in that group didn’t make it, and a few who did were permanently brain damaged.

music festival crowds


Drug Use and Deaths at Music Festivals

Ecstasy is one of the main culprits at these particular music festivals, according to the emergency room doctors. Doctors warn that any form of ecstasy is not safe, not matter what people say. There is an urban legend that pure ecstasy is okay, but it’s the batches that dealers cut with other substances that cause serious damage. This is just not true.

These are some of the dangers associated with taking Ecstasy:

Extreme thirst: While dehydration is a big concern at music festivals, Ecstasy use can cause over hydration. By drinking too much water, sodium levels in the body dangerously deplete. Crashing sodium levels can cause seizures. If the seizures go on for too long, the person could enter a coma and even die due to lack of oxygen in the brain.

ecstasy overhydration

Sudden increase in body temperature: Scientists have documented high body temperatures up to 109 degrees. All by itself, a body temperature that high can cause death. The human body is not able to sustain itself at that temperature, leading to multiple organ failure. Once the heat begins to break down major organs, there is no effective medical intervention.

Heart attack: When (normally healthy) teenagers are having heart attacks, they are often the result of a drug like Ecstasy. Ecstasy interferes with the neurotransmitters and receptors involved in regulating the heartbeat. Prolonged exposure of a large enough dose can induce a heart attack.

Kidney failure: Without working kidneys to filter toxins, dialysis is required every day. Dialysis puts a tremendous strain on your body and shortens your life span noticeably. If kidney failure isn’t caught on time, it can lead to death. Ecstasy breaks down muscles and produces a chemical in the body that damages kidneys.

Music festival deaths are not just a west coast phenomenon. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a report on a New York City music festival. Their findings were similar to those in LA. Almost all of the attendees tested positive for drugs and alcohol, with one of the biggest culprits being Ecstasy.

The death rate from drugs at this festival was higher than the death rate in a comparable demographic citywide. It even exceeded the death rate from all accidental overdoses related to psychoactive substances. Although drugs like Ecstasy are known to be dangerous and cause deaths, the music festival presented an excessive number of fatalities compared to life outside the festival. The CDC is interested in determining what sort of safety protocols could better protect public health at music festivals.

Another study undertaken by a NY hospital shows music festival dangers are not just an American problem. This study, performed in Ireland at Naas General Hospital, drew conclusions about dangers before, during and after a major music festival. Their findings were that these types of music events are associated with a marked increase in requests for medical care and the associated expenditures.

Here is the data they collected surrounding the Oxegen 2004 music festival:

• Over a three-day period, 72 festival attendees were treated at the hospital
• 37 of those patients had to be admitted for further treatment
• Of the patients treated, 34 tested positive for drugs and alcohol
• The music festival represented a 45% increase in emergency room activities
• Festival attendee patients in the emergency room were admitted at a rate of 51%

72 hospitalized oxygen 2004 festival

According to general CDC statistics, emergency room patients in most hospitals are admitted at a rate of about 12%. (136.3 million emergency room visits and 16.3 million hospital admissions.) The 51% rate of admission among festival attendees who were transported to the emergency room represents a huge increase. This supports the assertions by the LA doctors who said festival attendees come to the emergency room much sicker than other people.

higher death rate oxygen 2004 festival

Most Common Drugs Used at Music Festivals

By analyzing over three million Instagram posts, DrugAbuse.com was able to learn a lot about the drug activity at music festivals.

Here is the list of most talked about drugs from music festival attendees:

• Alcohol
• Cocaine
• Marijuana
• Mushrooms
• Crack
• Opioids
• Pills
• Mescaline

Here are some of the data they compiled:

• Alcohol use at KISS’s Chili Cook-off was mentioned in 90% of the posts by attendees of that festival
• At Marley Fest 82% of posts mentioned marijuana
• Cocaine was the subject of 12% of the posts from Coachella
• Opioids were mentioned by 5.63% of Lollapalooza attendees
• Of the posts from Bonnaroo attendees, 3.37% talked about using crack
• Of the festivals studied, Burning Man had the most overall drug references

alcohol at kiss's chili festival

While the scientific validity of this Instagram survey is questionable, the results are still worthwhile. There is no way of proving that everyone posting about drugs was actually doing them, or that they were doing the drugs they mentioned. It is impossible to prove whether each post represented a different person or five people were just jamming Instagram with their drug fantasies.

The interesting part is that the festivals all seemed to have their distinctive drug of choice. While drugs were definitely present at each one, different style festivals attracted a predominance of different substances. The predominance of alcohol, for instance, at the KISS festival might tell us something about the demographics of KISS fans. Burning Man festival fans seem to be extremely hardcore.

The use of cocaine and crack at some of the festivals might come as a surprise. Crack especially was associated with inner city cocaine addictions in the 1990s. Crack was invented as a cheaper way to get a cocaine high, and caught on in poorer neighborhoods, contributing to the overall sense of urban blight. The demographics of music festival attendees do not seem to fit with this profile of the crack user.

Drug Safety at Music Festivals

Thousands of people attend music festivals each summer and live to tell about it. Most attendees have a good time, and go home with nothing worse than a sunburn. Despite the prevalence of drugs at these outdoor events, it is possible to keep yourself safe by following a couple rules.

music festival sunburn

Recognize that there are dangers at music festivals, including drugs. Plan to have a good time, but stay aware of what is going on around you. Not everyone is there for the same reason, and not everyone at the festival is full of peace and love.

Be vigilant: Take steps to protect yourself from too much sun exposure. While you are dancing around and having a good time, you may not realize the damage the sun is doing. Wear sunscreen and reapply it frequently. Find a shady spot to cool off periodically. Drink plenty of water to guard against dehydration, which can have drastic results, especially when mixed with alcohol and drugs.

Carry in, carry out: This is a good motto for those hiking, camping and attending music festivals. Whenever possible, bring your own refreshments to the festival. This will give you the ultimate control over what you consume. There won’t be any surprises or hidden ingredients that your body might react to. Bringing your own refreshments also allows you to control the amount you consume. If you lose track of how many drinks you’ve had, you only have to see how much is left in the cooler to figure it out.

Watch your drink: Sharing might not be so caring after all. Don’t consume other people’s refreshments unless you are really sure what’s in them. Keep track of your own drink and be certain no one adds anything to it. When purchasing refreshments, make sure they’re served in a sealed package.

Monitor alcohol consumption: A music festival can be a couple hours or even a couple days of intense party atmosphere. No matter what your normal routine is, this will be over the top. Understand that you cannot sustain your normal level of consumption for such an elongated time period. Pace yourself and know when it is time to take a break.

Stay with friends: Watch the company you keep, and plan to attend the music festival with like-minded people. Talk about a strategy for avoiding dangers before you arrive at the festival. Stick with the people who are in your crowd. A music festival is not the time to branch out and try new things, other than some new music. Trying new drugs or combinations of substances you are not familiar with is not a good idea.

Find help: Seek help before it is too late. When you arrive at the festival, get an event map and scope out nearby emergency services. You should know where you can get help if you need it. If you recognize the early warning signs of overdose or heat exhaustion in yourself or with a friend, get emergency help immediately. Do not be embarrassed to ask for help. Do not wait to see if your symptoms pass.

Knowing when you need help involves recognizing the signs of a possible drug overdose. In addition to an overdose, you may also find yourself in trouble by dehydration. Knowing what to look for can help keep you safe.

overdose assistance

Signs of possible overdose:

• Drowsiness
• Hallucinations
• Vomiting
• Tremors
• Agitation
• Paranoia
• Aggression
• Dry, hot skin
• Difficulty breathing
• Convulsions
• Trouble walking

If you recognize any of these signs in yourself or someone you are with, get help immediately. Be sure you do not jeopardize your own safety, especially if the person overdosing is behaving in a violent manner. There is also no time to reason with someone in this condition. If you cannot get your friend to walk to the emergency station, call for medical help to come to you.

Someone who is suffering a possible drug overdose is not in a position to make rational decisions. You have to make those decisions and act on his or her behalf. There is no harm in getting medical attention and then finding out it was not an overdose. If you fail to reach out for emergency help and it really was an overdose, you’ll be upset at the outcome.

Safest Drugs at a Music Festival

Taking drugs for non-medical reasons is never safe. Although commercially prepared pharmaceuticals are regulated to contain specific amounts of active ingredients, they can still be harmful. Drugs that you buy at a music festival often come straight from someone’s basement. These drugs, because they are made by amateurs without any oversight, are probably the most dangerous.

People who tell that Ecstasy is safe under certain conditions are also dangerous. Drugs are not safe, especially when consumed in an intense party atmosphere, like a music festival, where peer pressure is also on the menu. Combining drugs and alcohol with extreme heat is a recipe for a trip to the emergency room, or worse.

combining drugs and alcohol danger

The safest drugs at a music festival are the ones your brain produces naturally. The sun and the music on a relaxing summer day are enough to carry you away. Listening to music produces changes in your brain that can be similar to the high you get from some party drugs. In addition to that, you can build up some endorphins dancing with your friends barefoot in the cool grass. There are many natural highs to experience at an outdoor music festival.

If you are not sure you can abstain from the drugs at a music festival, you don’t have to scrap your tickets. Contact 12 Keys instead and let us help you plan your day. Our compassionate staff of music lovers understands how certain locations and even certain tunes can trigger your desire to use drugs. Let us help you learn to recognize your own triggers and counteract them until you can develop new habits for relaxation and fun.

At 12 Keys, we use our expertise in the area of addiction recovery and mental health to guide people along a healing path toward a healthy, happy and substance-free life. It is entirely possible to live substance free and be happier than you are now. With the right education and behavioral modifications, you can discover a joy in life that you have never known before. It is all possible; you can do it. Contact 12 Keys today, and let us show you how.

call today learn more view our programs

The Addiction Blog