Music Festivals Embrace Overdose Reversal Drugs, but Fentanyl Testing Remains Taboo


A 26-year-old was discovered lifeless at his campsite in the course of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Pageant in 2019. The toxicology report linked his loss of life to a grim pattern that has solely worsened since. In his system have been each ecstasy and fentanyl — a harmful mixture, particularly if individuals don’t know the social gathering drug accommodates the extremely potent artificial opioid.

Attendees of multiday live performance festivals like Bonnaroo, held on an remoted farm in Espresso County, Tennessee, don’t appear to have a lot hassle sneaking tablets and powders previous safety. And people medicine could be laced with fentanyl, which is why medics who work at these occasions carry the overdose reversal medicine naloxone lately. However first responders can’t be in all places, and the fast-acting drug must be administered rapidly.

“We’re displaying up with it in big portions,” stated Ingela Travers-Hayward, whose Ohio-based nonprofit This Must Be the Place is flooding festivals with Kloxxado, a nasal spray model of the lifesaving drugs. “We wish to transfer across the campground and proactively hand this out.”

Travers-Hayward and her husband, William Perry, who turned a rehabilitation counselor after habit despatched him to jail for a decade, are crisscrossing the nation this summer season distributing doses of Kloxxado which have been donated by the producer, Hikma Prescribed drugs. Their summer season tour wraps up at Burning Man within the Black Rock Desert of Nevada on Labor Day weekend.

Music festivals as soon as frowned upon naloxone, and a few banned it. However regardless that what’s referred to as hurt discount — the idea of minimizing the unfavourable results of illicit drug use with out attempting to cease it altogether — has gained acceptance, it’s removed from embraced. Much less accepted than naloxone amongst live performance promoters helps individuals take a look at their medicine for fentanyl. Corporations don’t wish to be seen as condoning drug use. They’re additionally navigating a authorized grey space and battling public perceptions.

Hurt discount advocates picketed outside Bonnaroo in 2019 as a result of the competition didn’t enable testing of leisure medicine to search for fentanyl. Stay Nation, which is almost all proprietor of Bonnaroo and among the many largest live performance promoters on the planet, didn’t reply on to questions on whether or not it now permits fentanyl testing, saying in an e mail that Bonnaroo is all the time on the lookout for methods “to deal with and educate our patrons.”

Overdose deaths proceed to climb within the U.S. Drug fatalities topped 100,000 nationwide in 2021, with two-thirds brought on by artificial opioids. This has prompted federal and state governments to strive to think about new methods to fight the disaster, with the Biden administration giving $30 million to help packages which have typically operated within the shadows. Prior to now few years, the Substance Abuse and Psychological Well being Providers Administration additionally has absolutely embraced fentanyl take a look at kits.

Nonetheless, many communities far past music competition grounds are immune to harm-reduction methods, particularly fentanyl-testing instruments. Dr. Yngvild Olsen, director of SAMHSA’s Heart for Substance Abuse Remedy, stated hurt discount requires an evolution in considering, and he or she encourages organizations to contemplate hurt discount a lifesaving device — particularly when mass overdoses are attainable.

“The lethality of fentanyl has so modified the sport, as a result of it solely takes a bit bit to have somebody cease respiration,” Olsen stated. “If we’ve these very efficient instruments that we all know can save individuals’s lives, I feel that’s what we will rally round.”

Public well being companies increasingly recommend that even individuals who don’t use medicine carry naloxone, which could be obtained via a prescription or over-the-counter, although legal guidelines differ in numerous states. However typically the federal government takes a again seat in finishing up harm-reduction efforts, relying as a substitute on nonprofits and volunteers.

“It’s a nice line to stroll, and well being departments attempt to keep inside the bounds of the regulation whereas additionally speaking actively, attempting to get good public well being schooling on the market,” stated Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

However only a few individuals carry reversal medicine with them to live performance venues, Perry stated, and monitoring down free doses could be troublesome. “It’s not one thing someone places on their to-do record.”

For these prepared to purchase it, even the generic types could be costly. And name-brand reversal kits value more than $100 every with out insurance coverage.

“What we’re studying is that each one of those individuals know what naloxone is — they’ve even recognized individuals who have come again to life due to naloxone,” Travers-Hayward stated. “However we’re capable of be the individuals who give them their precise first package.”

She and a staff of volunteers handed out 2,500 doses at this 12 months’s Bonnaroo. One death occurred on the four-day occasion in June, though the toxicology report that may point out whether or not an overdose was guilty has not been launched.

Legal guidelines and insurance policies about handing out such drug-safety instruments differ by state. Naloxone, for example, technically stays a prescription drug, so handing it out means counting on good Samaritan laws that defend organizations and folks from authorized legal responsibility.

Though extra states, including Tennessee, are decriminalizing fentanyl test strips, they continue to be categorised as illegal drug paraphernalia by some states. And even in states the place take a look at strips are authorized, big-time festivals nonetheless don’t welcome them publicly, due to issues about legal responsibility or picture.

“They’ve prior to now given us an extended record of insurance coverage necessities,” stated the founding father of Bunk Police, an organization that surreptitiously sells take a look at kits at festivals. “We now have scoured the planet, I child you not, for underwriters that may insure us on this circumstance.”

The founder, who goes by Adam Auctor, doesn’t share his actual title — he fears for his security as a result of he traces laced medicine to particular sellers and tries to influence them to destroy their provide. He has testimonial movies that present sellers in tears after realizing their medicine may have killed somebody. However others aren’t so grateful, he stated.

Auctor stated he has been kicked out of Bonnaroo twice and now not goes. However he sneaks into varied different festivals just a few days early, parking his truck — full of hundreds of take a look at kits — within the woods to evade safety till he can mix into the throngs. “We barely even ask for permission to return anymore,” he stated. “We all know they are going to say ‘no’ to us.”

However the want is nice, he stated.

“Drug checking is just not an possibility anymore,” stated Mitchell Gomez, govt director of DanceSafe, a nonprofit that gives drug checking and different public well being schooling at nightclubs and social gathering venues. “It’s a factor that anybody who makes use of substances has to do.”

DanceSafe follows guidelines set by promoters, though Gomez wouldn’t reveal which festivals are cooperative. The place allowed, the nonprofit units up a tent with a tabletop machine that screens medicine for fentanyl.

Overdoses — typically from substances laced with fentanyl — are actually the top cause of loss of life for People ages 18 to 45. The grim pattern line has softened some promoters, Gomez stated, however not all of them.

Though company authorized groups stay leery, Gomez stated, he sees potential legal responsibility working in each instructions. “If someone dies at your occasion from one thing DanceSafe may have prevented and we reached out to you about being on-site and also you turned us down, I really suppose that most likely created some legal responsibility as properly,” he stated.

Generally he’s welcomed at a competition however banned from checking medicine. So Gomez palms out details about the hazards of fentanyl and provides away earplugs — a much less controversial means to assist individuals keep secure at festivals.

This text is from a partnership that features Nashville Public Radio and KHN.

This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Well being Information), a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Along with Coverage Evaluation and Polling, KHN is without doubt one of the three main working packages at KFF (Kaiser Household Basis). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering info on well being points to the nation.

KHN (Kaiser Well being Information) is a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Along with Coverage Evaluation and Polling, KHN is without doubt one of the three main working packages at KFF (Kaiser Household Basis). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering info on well being points to the nation.

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