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A new wave is hitting festivals: fentanyl

Fentanyl and other synthetic substances are increasingly appearing in recreational drugs


"Festival drugs laced with fentanyl are causing deaths." Illustration published on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018.

Arizona hosts multiple EDM festivals every year, including Goldrush this past weekend, and the upcoming New Year's festival, Decadence. Crowds for these events are expected to be well into the thousands, and experts are advocating for amped-up measures to ensure the safety of festival-goers.

Marijuana, cocaine, LSD and MDMA, also known as ecstasy, are commonly used street drugs, and are frequently used at music festivals. The drugs are claiming lives at increased rates because users are unaware that the pills they're popping could be laced with fentanyl.

Fentanyl is an opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine. It takes 30 milligrams of heroin to kill an average sized male, but it only takes three milligrams of fentanyl to be fatal. 

What's worse, "it's very hard to know if your substance is 100 percent clean," Bunk Police founder Adam Auctor said. "Fentanyl has been found in various substances, including heroin, cocaine, xanax, valium and other opioid painkillers."

Bunk Police is one of multiple companies that sell drug kits for users to test for fentanyl in any substance.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that fentanyl was responsible for over half of all overdose deaths in 10 states during the second half of 2016.

"We suggest having (test strips) on hand any time one may be considering ingesting anything that could be adulterated with fentanyl," said Chelsea Rose, a customer service and product manager for a company called DanceSafe.

Mitchell Gomez, executive director of DanceSafe, said anyone who uses drugs needs to be diligent and understand the risks.

"You hear all the time 'I trust my guy,' but it's actually about your guy's guy's guy, it's a chain," Gomez said. "It's really not about the person you get your stuff from. I personally suspect that the vast majority of the time, people who are selling messed up drugs don't even know."

Gomez said that festival-goers should locate the medical tent when they arrive at a festival and look out for themselves and others. 

He also said he hopes festivals will start to allow companies like DanceSafe to be on site for prevention and in case of emergency.

Political science sophomore Brennan Lines attended Goldrush this past weekend. He said that testing is the best way to stay safe.

"Other than testing, there aren't really precautions that you can take besides having a designated sober," Lines said. "A lot of my friends use those, and a lot of people will put in bulk orders and test the whole batch and then distribute to all of their friends."

Lines said it's important to be careful when taking any drug because effects vary by person.

"I had one friend roll too hard, hallucinate and get kicked out," he said. "But another friend took Molly from the same source and was fine." 

Experts advise drug users to understand that drugs are often more potent than they used to be, which increases the risk factors of using. 

"There's this gut feeling that we can sort of trust labeling, but with drugs, it's just so important that people learn that drugs' names are branding and nothing else," Gomez said. "You just don't have any idea what you're getting. You can't trust black markets, but you can trust analytical chemistry."

Editor’s note: Due to reporter error, Mitchell Gomez’s title was misstated as founder and executive director rather than executive director. The article has been updated to reflect this inaccuracy.

Reach the reporter at or follow @adrienne_dunn on Twitter.

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