This blog was written by Garrett Llopiz, the Founder & President of the University of North Florida SSDP chapter, and also one of the Florida Regional Organizers for the AMPLIFY Project.
“It’s not a war on drugs; it’s a war on personal freedom. Keep that in mind at all times.”Bill Hicks said it the best, and this war on personal freedom is manifesting itself as a war on information and education. This lack of information and education results in substance misuse, abuse, and death. All of which can be prevented with sensible and logical education methods and procedures. This past Labor Day weekend, the electronic dance music festival Electric Zoo was held on Randall’s Island in New York City and resulted in the death of two attendees from what has been released as an overdose of the synthetic chemical MDMA. The validity of this cause of death is skeptical at best, as there are many replica chemicals that induce similar effects but are much more dangerous than MDMA. Furthermore, dying from dehydration and from overdosing are two complete different events. Both stem from lack of information, and thus both can be prevented by education. As a result of these deaths, the last day of the 3-day music festival was cancelled by Mayor Bloomberg. These deaths could have been easily avoided if there were proper education booths that offered substance testing and important harm reduction information about drug usage and consumption. However, these sorts of booths and harm reduction strategies are frowned upon because of the taboo nature of illicit drugs. Substance testing is one of the most effective ways to keep the people who personally choose to ingest certain substances into what should be their own sovereign body. Substance testing allows the individual to be sure that they are indeed taking the substance that they believe to be ingesting. For example, the substance MDMA has several “look-a-likes” that are extremely dangerous and can cause permanent damage, while also presenting much greater risk of death. Substance testing and proper education conduits would allow for the individual to make the most reasoned and educated decision when deciding to ingest the substance. Organizations like DanceSafe and the AMPLIFY Project are working hard to keep people safe and educated. However, these organizations are constantly struggling to secure a presence at events due to the taboo nature of the ongoing conversation of drugs and drug policy. Promoters and organizers think that by having these organizations at these events they are somehow permitting illicit drug use. It is time to dispel this myth and understand that drug education and testing is not about permitting or condoning drug use, but rather about saving lives! Let’s now discuss the actual drugs, and let’s look primarily at MDMA. MDMA is a conscious-altering chemical that is relatively very safe in comparison to other substances like alcohol and prescription painkillers. However, if you aren’t sure what is actually being consumed, herein lies the danger. The “look-a-like” substances may feel similar, but carry heavy consequences of use, and some are extremely dangerous in comparison. Therefore, the importance of truth in education is two-fold: 1) To ensure that the substance in question is the legitimate chemical compound. 2) To reduce harm by informing people of the different chemical compounds and the proper procedures to stay safe during the experience. Substance testing is the ideal way to ensure these two aspects of harm-reduction education. Overall, there needs to be a giant paradigm shift in how we approach drug use. Even if policy and legality does not change, the taboo nature of drug conversation needs to cease in order to implement harm reduction strategies and save lives. We urge all event promoters and coordinators to actively seek out organizations like DanceSafe and the Amplify Project in order to keep their patrons informed and alive. Ending a giant festival like Electric Zoo a day early and immediately announcing the cause of death as MDMA overdose is not going to solve the problem. We need real pragmatic change, and that change comes with the right to free information and safety procedures that come with understanding drug use as a part of our culture and not some taboo counter-culture. You can learn more about harm reduction and the work of The AMPLIFY Project by following our Facebook Page, or signing up for our monthly newsletter.