Public health officials in Chicago are urging would-be Lollapalooza-goers to test their drugs for Fentanyl, citing concerns of potential overdoses during the four-day music festival. The festival, which was held over the weekend, saw nearly 400,000 people flood the city’s Grant Park, many of which were believed to be partaking in illicit drug use.
“There’s going to be people walking around with backpacks at Lollapalooza, that are going to be selling pills that are going to be laced with Fentanyl. There’s not a doubt in my mind,” said a spokesperson for the Chicago Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the days leading up to the festival.
In the official warning put out by the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), officials warned of the potential dangers of Fentanyl, and urged all Lollapalooza attendees to “Test your drugs before you use, carry Narcan, and don’t use alone.”
CDPH said Fentanyl is found in Cocaine, Ecstasy (MDMA) and other drugs – not just Heroin. The department also informed attendees that Narcan and Fentanyl test strips can be picked up at Chicago public libraries “in easy-to-access Narcan dispenser kits,” similar to other harm reduction sites found in other major cities across the country.
Previous Concerns About Fentanyl At Music Festivals
The warnings by CDPH are not the first to be made by the city, nor are they first to be made regarding a music festival. In the last year, Chicago alone has seen over 1,300 Fentanyl-related overdoses. Fentanyl now accounts for nearly 70% of all Opioid-related deaths in the United States, with a growing number of overdoses occurring at events such as raves or music festivals.
While not a surprise to many, music festivals such as Lollapalooza have become hotspots for party drugs like MDMA (Ecstasy), Cocaine, and many other recreational substances. These drugs, combined with extended periods outdoors in the heat, lack of proper hydration, and the drug culture surrounding music festivals can all spell disaster for those partaking in illicit drug activity.
Unfortunately, deadly overdoses involving Fentanyl at music festivals are becoming more and more common. Since 2006, there have been 26 confirmed cases of overdoses from Fentanyl-tainted Ecstasy alone at music festivals and other rave-like events. In fact, just two weeks ago at a music festival in Washington state called Wiggle in the Wetlands, a 21-year-old woman was found dead after consuming Ecstasy that had been laced with Fentanyl.
It’s not just regular drug users that are falling victim to overdoses at music festivals. In 2018, 16-year-old Evan Kitzmiller died at Lollapalooza after a fatal overdose involving Ecstasy. Andrew Kitzmiller, Evan’s father, remains adamant that Evan was not a drug user, and that it was likely Lollapalooza was his first time using.
Music festivals create unique opportunities, and risks, for illicit drug use. Most major festivals, like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Coachella, draw massive crowds, sometimes exceeding half a million attendees. This makes it easy to slip backpacks filled with drugs past security, which is oftentimes lacking to begin with.
These types of festivals are also typically held in the height of summer, with many in locations that can exceed 100 degrees in the daytime. This, combined with alcohol and drug use, can cause severe dehydration, which can increase the risk for a drug overdose.
Fentanyl Can Be Found In Many Drugs Used At Festivals, Not Just Heroin
Fentanyl is commonly associated with drugs like Heroin or Methamphetamines, as it is commonly used to lace or “cut” the substance to make it more potent or addictive. However, many people may be unaware that Fentanyl can also be found in numerous other drugs, including the two most commonly used at music festivals: Ecstasy and Cocaine, according to a 2018 survey on illicit drug use at music festivals.
Fentanyl is a synthetic Opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than Morphine. The drug is typically used to treat patients after surgery but has become rampant in recreational drugs where it is often used to “cut” or lace other substances. This can oftentimes be unknown to drug users, which can lead to devastating consequences for unsuspecting music festival attendees.
Illicit drugs like Ecstasy and Cocaine don’t come with an ingredient list, and it’s nearly impossible to tell if they have been laced with Fentanyl unless you test them with Fentanyl test strips. Even in small amounts, Fentanyl can be extremely deadly, making any level of illicit drug use potentially dangerous. When compared with other illicit drugs, such as Cocaine, which can be lethal in doses around 1.2 grams, Fentanyl can be lethal in as little as 2 milligrams.
Since October of last year, Chicago DEA has seized over 80,000 pills containing Fentanyl. What makes these pills especially dangerous, according to DEA officials, is that they are nearly identical to the real thing.
“I’ve done this job for 20 years,” said one DEA official. “I can’t distinguish between a fake Fentanyl pill or a pill containing Fentanyl and one that doesn’t.”
While the answer to staying safe from Fentanyl at music festivals is to avoid illicit drug use altogether, health officials say that should attendees decide to use, they should do so safely. Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is a drug used to help reverse the symptoms of an overdose and save lives.
“Having your own naloxone could save someone else’s life. Or if you carry it around and let your friends and other loved ones know where it is, because you can’t use it on yourself,” said Dr. Maria Rahmandar, who often treats patients during Lollapalooza at Lurie Children’s Hospital. “If you decide to use something, I would encourage you to not use alone and to use with people who are sober.”
Even Occasional Drug Use At Music Festivals Can Lead To Addiction
It’s important to note that there is a difference between occasional drug use and drug addiction. Using illicit drugs once, or occasionally, is known as drug misuse. Because no level of drug use is safe, drug misuse still carries significant risk, especially considering the increased warnings surrounding Fentanyl at music festivals.
Where drug misuse crosses over to drug addiction is when it is accompanied by compulsive behaviors such as seeking out drugs, despite adverse consequences. Addiction is considered a brain disorder, because it involves changes to the brain that alter the way it functions. These changes oftentimes involve altering the circuits involved with reward, risk, stress, and self-control. This is why it’s recommended to seek professional help for drug addiction.
If you or someone you know are unable to stop using drugs, they should consider treatment for drug addiction. Treatment for drug addiction usually begins with detox, which should be done at a treatment facility, as drug withdrawals can be especially dangerous. Depending on the substance you are using, detox can take anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks.
Detox is just the first part of treatment. On its own, detox is usually insufficient for a successful recovery. You will need to speak with your doctor or addiction treatment specialist to determine what steps you will need to take once detox is complete. Typically, this will include inpatient or outpatient rehab programs, or a combination of both.
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