Drug Use, Dance Music and Sweltering Heat Addressed at EDM Biz Panel, Just Ahead of Electric Daisy

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
Elvis impersonator Cristian Morales wipes sweat from his brow while standing out on The Strip posing for photos with tourists on June 27, 2013 in Las Vegas. 

Medical experts say the lowest temperature expected this weekend is a steamy 87 degrees. "We're going to have problems simply because it's hot."

Part of what makes the Las Vegas Electric Daisy Carnival such a thrill ride is that it pushes the elements, drawing hundreds of thousands of people into the middle of a desert to dance to rib-rattling bass from sunset to sunrise. But part of that experience includes heavy alcohol and drug use (this is Sin City, after all) which a panel of five experts addressed at today's EDM Biz Conference.

Collectively, they answered a few key questions: How do you make a massive party the size of six small cities safe? Are drugs a problem unique to EDM? And finally, what about alcohol?  

Mark Lawrence, CEO of the Association for Electronic Music and the panel's moderator, said that while events companies like Insomniac and HARD Events can't control the substances fans buy and consume, they can over-prepare for any possible outcome -- and they do. EDM is plagued by reputation for being reckless, he said, but Insomniac hires some of the best medical physicians on the west coast to strategize the festival's on-site care facilities. 

One of today's panelists, Dr. Adam Lund, an emergency medical physician who specializes in mass gatherings, said there's an unfair stigma around providing medical care at EDM festivals. 

"People do ultra-endurance events and end up in the medical tents because their electrolytes are messed up, and we celebrate them, we say, 'good for you for pushing your body,'” he said. “But when people get sick at a music festival, we say they don’t deserve as much help as someone who did an Iron Man." 

Some say the solution is to offer on-site drug testing at music festivals. The thinking is that fans are probably going to take substances anyway, so better to be sure what it is. But many promoters, fearing that testing booths imply that they encourage drug use, don't allow companies like DanceSafe to have a presence on the grounds. That strategy, Lawrence said, is backwards.

"The reason it's so important to talk about what you're taking is that it's probably not what you think you're taking," said Brianna Price, a DJ and BBC Radio 1 artist better known as B-Traits. "Having an open-forum discussion is the safer answer." 

All five panelists agreed that the biggest problem the festival faces isn't drugs. It's the combination of alcohol and heat, which can be deadly. 

Maren Steiner, the health and safety director for Insomniac Events, said it’s not unusual for attendees of Electric Daisy Carnival to drive across the country fo two or three straight days, get hammered in line, and then go wild in the 90-degree heat only to pass out within two hours from dehydration, overheating and exhaustion. “Alcohol is a huge, huge factor,” she said. “The drugs get a lot more attention, but people forget that component. It’s a huge issue.” 

This weekend could be particularly extreme. The lowest the temperature will get over the next three days will be 87 degrees. “We’re going to have problems, no doubt, simply because it’s hot,” said Dr. Dale Carrison, the medicate director for the Las Vegas Motor Speedway where Electric Daisy Carnival will take place this weekend. “Add in alcohol and drugs? You do the math.”