Concert venues ripe with drugs

The crowd dances at 191 Toole. (Photo by: Paige Carpenter / Arizona Sonora News Service)

Lanre Akomolafe, a local Tucson entertainment filmer and photographer, sees it now more than ever.

“I was at Mad Decent Block Party, a music festival in Phoenix, Arizona, last year and a man fell to the ground and started seizing right in front of me,” says Akomolafe. Akomolafe brought medical personnel to help. Later, Akomolafe learned the man overdosed on a mixture of ecstasy and cocaine.

Drug use is not new to live entertainment. Today, festival-goers, security, and drug therapists all believe drug use at music performances are at an all time high. More drug confiscations and arrests demonstrate that drugs are commonplace at concerts now.

According to the Los Angeles Times, 29 rave-goers died of drug-related causes nationwide since 2006. At the 2017 Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, one person died and over 1,000 required medical treatment.

With lethal additives being laced into recreational drugs, increased availability, and a lack of major consequences of being caught with drugs, the entertainment industry is witnessing a crisis.

“I can count on seeing someone carried out on a stretcher by the paramedics at any big music show I go to,” says Akomolafe. “I have seen more drug-related incidents in the past year than ever before.”

Drug deaths are no stranger to Tucson, either. Lil Peep, a 21-year-old rapper, overdosed on Nov. 15 on his tour bus before a show at 191 Toole, a venue in Tucson, Arizona. He took a Xanax pill laced with Fentanyl.

The crowd dances at 191 Toole.
(Photo by: Paige Carpenter / Arizona Sonora News Service)

Akomolafe says, “I have seen countless people in the audience with their eyes rolled back into their head or watched performers taking various drugs either before, during, or after their show, but it is hard to say who has a drug problem and who does not.”

Liana Condello, a therapist at Boost Counseling Substance Abuse Services in Tucson,  says the problem is the availability of drugs because 90 percent of the world’s population of opioids is in America. The U.S. has a prescribing issue, Condello says. “It’s easy to go to a physician and get a prescription for all sorts of drugs.”

Mark Cohen, the owner of a private security company for Tucson music events and bars, said that the availability and accessibility of drugs is undoubtedly increasing. Wild West Security has caught more people with drugs in the past year than any other year.

Cohen explains, “We increase security at festivals and shows because we know drugs are being brought in and used.” However, there are no major consequences when people are caught with drugs.

“When drugs are found at the security checkpoint or inside the venue, security disposes of the drugs and the person is still allowed at the show.”

When people bring drugs into a show, few realize what they are taking or where it is coming from. Condello said that most drugs in Arizona are made in Mexico and illegally transported across the border.

“People have no way of knowing what they are actually taking,” Condello says. “This is when we see overdoses.”

Paige Carpenter and Angela Vera are reporters for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact us at paigencarpenter@email.arizona.edu or angelatvera@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos.

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