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Drugs & Health Blog

Concerts and Drugs: Is There a Way to Reduce the Dangers?

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
The NIDA Blog Team

Summer is back, and outdoor concerts can be an awesome part of it. Concert festivals are all about good music, good friends, and big crowds.  But for some people, these events are also about using drugs. Every year, we hear about drug overdoses and drug-related deaths happening at concert festivals.

These tragedies, as well as the many injuries and arrests, are terrible, life-changing and even life-ending events. There are no words of comfort for the families and friends of those who never come back from their “bad trip.” 

Even concert hosts have to take stock when the drugs used at their events get more news coverage than the bands. It’s against the law to make concerts “drug-friendly,” so many concert organizers have gone with a zero tolerance policy. Others find it easier to turn a blind eye (at least, until they’re shut down).

But some music festivals are trying a different approach to reduce the bad experiences for concert-goers determined to get high on illicit drugs. 

A “harm reduction” approach

“Harm reduction” is an approach that is based on the belief that some people will do risky, dangerous, and sometimes illegal things even if they know that it could hurt them or have an outcome they don’t want. Risky behaviors include things like using drugs, having unprotected sex, and binge drinking. And examples of unwanted outcomes from these behaviors include HIV infection, pregnancy, arrests, and drunk-driving accidents. 

Supporters of harm reduction feel that educating and protecting people about how to reduce unwanted outcomes is more realistic and helpful than educating them on why they shouldn’t do it in the first place. However, others say there should be a “zero tolerance” approach and that by trying reduce harm from using drugs, you are encouraging drug use.

So how does this work at concerts?

Well, in recent years, organizations that promote safe drug use have distributed drug-testing kits at music festivals to help people who buy drugs to be sure that they're really getting what they think they're getting.

For example, much of what is sold at concerts (and on the street) as “Molly” (MDMA powder) is really one of various synthetic cathinones, the extremely dangerous and unpredictable stimulant chemicals in bath salts.  You might have read about this before on this blog. (Drug dealers lie. Who knew?)

The drug test kits are used to check what’s actually in that little baggie and alert buyers when they have been duped. (A recent documentary found that what people bought as Molly was really bath salts 100 percent of the time!) But it turns out that the drug tests being distributed aren’t totally reliable. They may not be accurate, and they might miss the presence of many potentially harmful chemicals. So they could promote a false sense of security.

Lightning in a Bottle

The Lightning in a Bottle Music Festival, held over Memorial Day weekend in California, took extra steps to try and reduce negative outcomes for concertgoers who used drugs by partnering with harm-reduction organizations like DanceSafe. This group offers drug testing and tries to educate people at electronic music festivals and nightlife venues about potential warning signs connected to drug use, like heat stroke and dehydration, since these are the main reasons people die or become seriously ill from MDMA at music festivals. DanceSafe also hands out water.

Lightning in a Bottle also offered help to anyone going through a difficult experience while on psychedelic drugs like acid or mushrooms.

But is harm reduction helpful?

Not everyone thinks harm reduction is a good idea. Some people think trying to make drug use safer is just a way to promote drugs rather than keep people from using them altogether. By making it a little bit safer, they say, you are giving people the green light to go ahead and do something that could harm them.

Few would argue against the idea that knowledge—including a person knowing what’s really in the powder they bought at a concert—is always better than ignorance. But we don’t know how much that information actually influences people to change course when they find out they got swindled. Does finding out they've bought bath salts and not Molly keep them from taking the product they just spent money to get? We also don’t know if these harm-reduction programs have prevented any overdoses or deaths, or if anyone has been more likely to use drugs when they know an aid station is there to help if something goes wrong. In the end, the only way to ensure good health is to stay away from drugs offered at these concerts.

What do you think? Will harm-reduction programs at concerts help people make smarter decisions about their health, or encourage risky behavior?

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Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

Comments

I believe that they should ban drug use at concerts altogether. By having this harm reduction thing you are just giving people more of a reason to do drugs. People will think that they are safe and you are promoting the use of drugs because if this. Then after taking the drugs they can do something dangerous that harms themselves or the people around them. Drugs and concerts and two things that should not go together.
Why don’t they just have more strict security to stop the drugs and other stuff from getting into the concert. What’s the point though you go to a concert to listen to music not get yourself hurt.
organizations that promote safe drug use have distributed drug-testing kits at music festivals to help people who buy drugs to be sure that they're really getting what they think they're getting. I think this is a excellent way to prevent accidents such as Risky behaviors include things like using drugs, having unprotected sex, and binge drinking.
I don’t think harm reduction is that helpful. It makes people think that if they take the drug, they’ll be fine and if something goes wrong, they’ll be helped. However, some of these drugs have long term effects that can’t be stopped, I think no tolerance is better.
I think that the methods used to prevent people from using drugs and staying safe will work to a certain point. The dealers will never stop selling there product to those on the streets. That’s how they make their money and rely on their buyers to keep them funded. However, if the buyers don’t but from the dealers the dealers will run out of product. Therefore, the methods used may help the buyers know what there buying but the sellers will not stop selling what they want
It’s terrible how people have to be pushed to not do drugs and how it can affect what’s supposed to be a fun, harmless concert. What “Lightning in a bottle” did and how they’re trying to make concerts safer is great.
It’s hard to say since some people won’t listen to people when they try to warn them about it and then that person will find out after they’ve decided their choice.
I think that drug safe companies should not be distributing drug kits. Although it may seem like a good idea they should be encouraging no use of drugs
I think that the harm reduction is just a reason why people would do drugs. It’s saying that there is a safer way of taking drugs which there isn’t a safer way. However I do like that they are trying to help people better understand the consequences of taking drugs. I feel like it’s kinda weird that concerts are handing out drug tests for people. I like how they are helping people out, but it doesn’t always work.
If these tests stop people from taking bath salts they’re good. They’d take it without the test so it’s only helping. Drugs are a persons choice so it shouldn’t be on the musicians or festival to regulate it
I think that distributing drug kits is not the way to prevent drugs at festivals. The drug kits may be saving some people from not doing harder drugs but they should focus on not doing drugs at all.
Banning drugs is an almost impossible feat because people will always find a way around it. But educating the public about the negative affects of drugs will help people make better decisions.
I think it is wrong to bring any drugs into a concert, and if you are keep them to yourself. People think it’s alright to bring drugs into a concert, and it takes or destroys lives. It’s alright to have fun at a concert but you have to be able to control what you do.
I think that any attempt to make change is a good one, ideas are shared and some people will have their own opinion. Any attempt to get rid of drug use is a good gesture so I don’t necessarily think people should be ridiculed.

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