Experts say rave culture leaves plenty of warning signs for health risks

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Laser lights shone over the heads of fans during the Electric Daisy Carnival held at Fair Park in Dallas on Saturday. A 19-year-old man died at the event.

As Dallas officials continued to face fallout from the weekend death of a 19-year-old man at a Fair Park event, experts on rave culture say warning signs have long existed about the dangers of concerts characterized by intense flashing lights, loud electronic music and heavy drug use.

City officials’ decision to host such an event two years in a row is part of a growing trend in which governments lease large public facilities for events that have repeatedly led to numerous drug-related injuries and some deaths.

“This is not exactly a secret; it doesn’t take a friggin’ brain surgeon to figure out what’s going on at these things,” said Trinka Porrata, a former Los Angeles Police Department narcotics investigator and an expert on raves and party drugs. “These are drug fests. That’s all they are. Most of the kids will tell you, ‘Why would I go to a rave if I wasn’t going to do drugs?’”

The Electric Daisy Carnival and its promoter, Insomniac Inc., have been dogged by controversy in L.A. since a 15-year-old girl died of an Ecstasy overdose at the event there last summer. That case apparently did not raise red flags when Dallas officials signed a lease agreement with Insomniac in November.

Park Board President Joan Walne, who was vice president at the time, was one of several city officials who signed off on the $25,000 lease agreement. She said she was not aware of the June 2010 death at the L.A. Electric Daisy Carnival until this past weekend.

“We’d had them last year without incident,” Walne said. “And so they were returning and they had evidently a very successful engagement last year, so we were going on the history that we had at Fair Park.”

Mayor-elect Mike Rawlings was the president of the Park Board when the deal was signed, though his signature is not on the lease. He declined to comment on Tuesday, saying he did not have enough information.

Walne said she is “hugely concerned” about the weekend’s events, including the suspected overdose death of Andrew Graf, a Texas A&M sophomore. Thirty other people between ages 17 and 34 were hospitalized with drug, alcohol or heat-related health problems stemming from the 18-and-over event. City officials are considering changes to how they book events at Fair Park.

“We’re in dialogue with staff and staff will certainly examine their procedures, and if they feel there are any changes that need to be made, we’ll sit down and have conversations about that,” Walne said.

An Insomniac spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Tuesday. She said earlier that her company works closely with local public safety officials “to make our events safe, and we greatly appreciate their involvement in the planning process. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our fans.”

Raves, all-night dance parties featuring electronic dance music combined with heavy drug use, especially the club drug Ecstasy, rose to popularity in the ’80s and ’90s. In the early days, the parties were typically spontaneous and held in out-of-the-way places, such as warehouses or pastures.

“It’s sort of a second wave of hippie feel-good culture,” said Tammy Anderson, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware who wrote a book on rave culture. “Ecstasy gives them the feeling that they are all right with the world, and it also keeps them up so they can keep dancing for long periods of time.”

The raves that occur these days are often large-scale productions traveling from city to city, said Anderson.

“They’re what I would call corporate raves,” Anderson said. “They are often a lot like concerts because you pay so much money to get into them. They usually have pretty good security and protection.”

Anderson said health risks with raves become a factor when people dance for long periods of time while taking amphetamines with hallucinogenic effects.

“They get dehydrated, and they collapse from heat exhaustion,” Anderson said. “That’s not surprising if they’re dancing all night for a long period of time and they’re not drinking enough fluids.”

Anderson said it is the combination of heat exhaustion or overhydration — drinking too much water — with drugs that can lead to deaths.

An Ecstasy overdose killed 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez in June 2010 after she attended Insomniac’s two-day Electric Daisy Carnival along with 185,000 others at the publicly owned Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, according to news reports.

Weeks earlier, two people died after attending a San Francisco Bay area rave that drew 16,000 people to a state-owned facility. Both were believed to have died from Ecstasy overdoses.

Months before that, a 24-year-old man died after attending a New Year’s Eve rave at the Los Angeles Sports Arena that drew 45,000 people. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on that case said that 18 of 30 people hospitalized used Ecstasy and that the dead man used Ecstasy and cocaine at the rave and injected heroin at home afterward.

The family of Sasha Rodriguez has filed claims against Insomniac and the L.A. commission that controls the stadium where she fell ill. Their Beverly Hills attorney, Steven D. Archer, said he believes the groups that put on large-scale raves are well aware of the drug culture that persists.

“They set up the machine, they turn the motor on, they invite people into a room,” Archer said. “Then carnage happens and they stand back and say, ‘Sorry, not my problem.’”

sgoldstein@dallasnews.com; teiserer@dallasnews.com


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