Free Water and Drug Education

Every year people die at concerts and music festivals, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it never really needed to be that way in the first place.

Two of the main causes of these deaths can be attributed to the fact that many festival promoters and venue owners have long avoided providing free water and allowing the distribution of evidence-based drug education at their events because they have feared being accused of “maintaining drug-involved premises,” a charge that is punishable by law. Not offering these services has led to severe medical events like hyperthermia and overdoses.

However, earlier this month the U.S. Department of Justice displayed the tiniest inkling of support for the harm reduction movement by announcing that these two important harm reduction techniques will officially be tolerated from now on. That means that moving forward, access to free water and the distribution of drug education material will be allowed at events.

This news comes less than one month after the electronic music producer G Jones lended his support for allowing harm reduction groups to work at concerts and festivals. He made this pronouncement shortly after two attendees died at the Lost Lands music festival in Thornville, Ohio.

The DOJ stated that it believes free water and drug education are “reasonable and appropriate safety measures,” marking the first time that the organization has recognized that these harm reduction approaches do not violate the “Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act” of 2003 (commonly referred to as the “Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy” or “RAVE Act.”)

Even though this news may seem insignificant to some psychonauts, it’s a huge deal for the harm reduction community. Offering free water and passing out drug education pamphlets at events are two easy and inexpensive (not to mention completely obvious) ways to reduce unnecessary risks at live events, even if attendees choose to not use drugs while they’re there.

After all, knowing more about drugs would come in handy if you decided to experiment with them in the future, and being able to drink water even if you have lost your wallet can save you from becoming dehydrated or overheating. This unfortunately happens occasionally due to the nature of concerts and festivals, which involve being in close proximity to thousands of people in hot environments like sun-baked fields and jam-packed dance floors.

Harm reduction organizations like DanceSafe, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and Bunk Police, who already have a history of operating at music festivals and concerts (sometimes surreptitiously), will now be able to pass out water and educate people about how to more safely use drugs without worrying about being hassled by event staff or police. The worldwide psychedelic community owes a debt of gratitude for the work that these organizations have been doing all this time—there is no doubt that their efforts have saved many lives.

However, this news from the DOJ does not mean that harm reduction groups have been cleared to offer drug checking services on site, even though some of them already covertly do just that. During the last few years, some countries have begun to offer (or at least to support) on-site drug checking services, but so far this hasn’t happened in the United States—mostly due to the RAVE Act, which was allegedly intended to increase safety but instead has done the complete opposite, causing far more harm than good. Hopefully these groups selling reagent test kits at events won’t have to operate on the down-low for much longer, because the Justice Department’s announcement will also enable advocacy groups to work with regional U.S. district attorneys to make events even safer by incorporating other harm reduction measures, which could potentially include these testing services.

None of his would have happened without the more than 20,000 people who signed the Amend the RAVE Act petition, which captured the attention of leaders in Congress and motivated them to demand action from the DOJ. At the end of the day, we still have a long way to go when it comes to getting mainstream culture to understand and support harm reduction, but this news will help music fans be a little more safe and sound at live events.

The harm reduction community is deeply appreciative of any and all community support, and even the simplest of acts can save lives. If you are interested in contributing to the Amend the RAVE Act effort, you can sign the petition or donate to the cause.