Have you been dying for a good party lately?
Sadly, some people literally are. Parties and dance clubs
are usually relatively safe havens where friends gather to
have fun and celebrate life. But the introduction of more
powerful and volatile drugs in recent years, and the resultant
triage units that have become all-too-familiar to the modern
party boy or girl, has dramatically shifted the party scene
by sometimes turning these innocuous retreats into risky endeavors.
In other words, todays dance marathons are littered
with some very hazardous obstacles, and not everyone is making
it to the finish line.
According to the U.S. governments
2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), 15.9
million Americans over the age of 12 reported using an illicit
drug in the month preceding the survey interview, an increase
of almost 3% from 2000. The largest group of current users
is 18-25 year olds at 18.8%. Additionally, the survey found
that an estimated 8.1 million persons have tried Ecstasy (MDMA)
at least once in their lifetime (1.9 million of them for the
first time in the last year alone), and 1.3 million people
were current users of hallucinogens (including MDMA, LSD,
PCP, peyote, mescaline and mushrooms).
These numbers may not shock you, but they
do demonstrate just how widespread drug use is in America.
But the issue is not as black and white as the government
would have the public believe. Just like alcohol and tobacco
(109 million and 66.5 million users, respectively, as reported
in the 2001 NHSDA), many people successfully manage and moderate
their drug use. But sometimes even the most experienced users
run into trouble, and that is where the concept of harm reduction
"The landscape of recreational use
is changing," says health advocate Alan Brown, founder
of the non-profit Electric Dreams Foundation (EDF) and its
harm reduction website, PartySafe.org. EDF seeks to improve
health and well-being within the social arenas of gay culture"
while striving to "reduce both the physical and mental
health risks associated with drug use, HIV and other sexually
transmitted infections." "Things have gotten much
more complex in recent years," Brown continues. "It
takes a lot of work to be a savvy drug user."
Nobody wants to see our dance parties
disappear. Nobody wants to see friends leaving events on stretchers.
And nobody wants to lose loved ones to the dark despair of
drug addiction. Accordingly, EDF and similar organizations
are attempting to create an open and honest environment where
people can set aside their moral and philosophical views on
drug use, and band together as a community to approach these
potentially dangerous situations head-on in a non-judgmental,
pro-active manner. As the AIDS Committee of Toronto urged
in its recent "A Safer Place To Party" campaign,
we need to stop looking at drug use as a criminal or moral
issue and start treating it as a health issue.
While harm reduction can be defined in
many ways and applied to a myriad of situations, the basic
premise is eloquently outlined by the Harm Reduction Coalition,
a nationwide organization dedicated to fostering alternative
models to conventional health and human services and drug
treatment, on their website, HarmReduction.org:
"Harm reduction strategies meet drug
users where theyre at, addressing conditions
of use along with the use itself. [It] accepts, for better
or for worse, that illicit drug use is part of our world and
chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than
simply ignore or condemn them." (See sidebar for harm
Do You Know Where Youre At?
Have you ever asked yourself, "Why
am I doing drugs?" Do you ever step back and take stock
of your substance use and partying? Do you talk about these
issues with your friends? Many of us probably dont,
but this is perhaps the most valuable thing we can do to help
protect our friends and ourselves. It is also important to
figure out where youre at with your usage. Are you an
experimental user, a binge user, a functional user, or have
you crossed over from recreational use? By understanding the
different stages of drug use, you can make more informed decisions
and hopefully know if it is time to ask for help.
While there are risks associated with
all drugs, two in particular are wreaking havoc on our community
and destroying lives. Both are used responsibly and relatively
safely by some, however, an increasing number of people are
getting into trouble with crystal methamphetamine ("Tina")
and GHB (and its precursors and related solvents).
Crystal is a highly addictive substance
that almost inevitably leads to physical and psychological
dependence over time as well as other severe health consequences.
The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reports a disproportionately
high number of emergency department visits due to methamphetamine
13,505 in 2000 compared to 4,969 for GHB and 4,511
for MDMA. GHB is clearly the wild card in the party mix, though.
It is deadly when taken with alcohol or Restoril (or any drugs
in the benzodiazepine family), and its volatile nature often
yields unpredictable results. Fall-outs from GHB, which can
be frighteningly gruesome, contributed to the demise of GMHCs
Morning Party on Fire Island and the legendary nightclub Twilo.
Hospital transports continue to threaten
other national benefit parties and nightclubs, but the compassionate
efforts of Dr. Chris Mann and his MedEvent teams of volunteers
are helping make our parties safer while keeping them off
of the 11:00 news. These licensed physicians, paramedics and
nurses who are familiar with the party scene are patrolling
the dance floors at circuit parties and other large events
to provide on-site medical assistance, saving countless lives
in the process.
Another group that is working tirelessly
to make our community building dance parties safer is DanceSafe.
With 26 local chapters in cities throughout North America,
the non-profit organization "promotes health and safety
within the rave and nightclub community" by "creating
successful, peer-based educational programs to reduce drug
abuse and empower young people to make healthy, informed lifestyle
Volunteers staff booths at events to "provide
information on drugs, safer sex, and other health and safety
issues concerning the electronic dance community (like driving
home safely and protecting ones hearing)." They
also test Ecstasy pills at events when they are able to obtain
immunity from local authorities (an invaluable albeit increasingly
rare service) to help users avoid fake and adulterated tablets
that may be even more dangerous. Personal pill testing kits
may also be purchased at DanceSafe.org.
Since the governments ruinous war
on drugs has failed and abstinence does not work for everybody,
Brown and other health advocates agree that we must accept
that drugs are a part of our culture, and work to empower
our community to implement and exercise the lifesaving elements
of harm reduction. Knowledge is power, after all, and the
more you know about what youre doing and how to mitigate
the risks, the sooner we can all get back to partying safely.