What to Do About All the EDM Overdoses…

Will all that Molly eventually kill this party?

EDM is suddenly worth billions, DJs are now the richest entertainers alive, and anything ‘electric’ is usually packing arenas for entire weekends.  The only problem is that EDM fans keep frying their brains, for good.

Case in point: just this weekend, EDM festival Electric Zoo was forced to abruptly shut down following two MDMA-related deaths.  Jeffrey Russ, 23, was rushed to Harlem Hospital Center before being pronounced dead at 3:10 am; Olivia Rotondo, 20, died at another nearby hospital a few hours earlier.  Both deaths are thought to be connected with heavy use, irresponsible use, or sketchy contaminations of MDMA (and its street derivatives ‘molly’ and ecstacy).


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 “Electric Zoo Scorecard: 1 Rape, 2 Deaths, 4 Near Deaths, 31 Arrests…


The question is what level of responsibility promoters and venues must assume, and more importantly, how this affects the trajectory of this explosive genre.  Sketchy dealers are often blamed for casualties, as are naive, irresponsible users (as in the case of a 15-year-old who overdosed at Electric Daisy Carnival in 2010).

So… blame the user?


And what about not doing X in the first place?  One problem is that the drug is so central to EDM culture, that few with financial interests tied to the genre are willing to speak out against its use.  Even this PSA featuring several top DJs (and tweeted by Sunshine himself) is more focused on using Molly responsibly than not at all.

You know, sort of the way beer companies love to say, ‘drink responsibly’.

(Update: since the publication of this article, the video has now been password-protected and locked.) 

ECSTASY PSA from Calico Works on Vimeo.

This is certainly something EDM companies, promoters, and executives are thinking about very seriously.  Take Molly out of the picture and the scene might flatten; just as excessive monitoring, exclusion of minors, and preventative policing could kill the vibe.  But, it would also kill less people.

The solution seems to be to manage the effects, not regulate its use.  One tactical approach is to position as many ambulatory and medical units as possible at festivals, while carting OD’ing festival-goers to hospitals as quickly as possible.  Live Nation, which recently invested $50 million in Insomniac Events, seems to be dispersing military-like medical units and equally well-trained PR responses.

And, downplaying outcomes like this…


“Everyone knows you take drugs at this rave.  I want to prevent this from happening to other people. As long as these go on, people are going to get hurt.”

Testimony of Aisha Armen, who at age 19 suffered a massive convulsion, multi-organ failure, four strokes and entered a two-month coma after heavy MDMA use at EDC in 2009.


But here’s where this whole thing starts to get really dark and calculating.  According to one EDM promoter (at a festival that will remain unnamed), an actual death is almost expected — but everyone makes sure that it happens outside the venue.  “They don’t want anyone dying at the festival itself,” the promoter confidentially explained.  “So they get them off as soon as they possibly can, and get them to a hospital.”


“So the instructions are clear: no one dies at the festival.  They have that part down.”

23 Responses

  1. Visitor

    it’s been this way since the 90s… LA News would run stories every week “are you kids going to a rave? they are going to die!”…
    Origins Of EDM : Better Living Through Circuitry
    Remeber the Rave?

    • Palopi

      Yup, Rememeber “Fry For $5” ?
      This ain’t nothing new…it’s just financed now. The next stage of this is when the cartels come to the table..watch…

      • JAYROD

        Yeah man. this is becoming more of a daily thing now. i mean, people have died in the past (no disrespect to those who have lost loved ones) due to the same damn thing. but now since its all in the media and its just getting rediculous, these new kids need more education about taking substances , ofcourse all at their own risk.
        i want to give an example of how the media is running edm now a days.
        INSOMNIAC use to be a single event organizer. its been that way for almost 20 years. but woah! here comes damn LIVENATION! they are known for making and hosting events for mainstream artists. what im trying to say is … ITS ALL MONEY! . “molly” has become such a used word in todays language. even the damn disney star miley cyrus has used it in her song. i mean come on!!!! what happened to “ecstacy” ??? its all molly now. and every time someone says that word , it just means more money for the big guys. anyways. EDM aint PLUR anymore.

  2. Sakis Gouzonis

    Why do people use extra drugs at festivals? Music is the strongest drug in the world, and it is 100% safe.

  3. @mattadownes

    The most obvious move is for the venues to really nail down 100% free water to its patrons (your ticket gets you easily acquirable fresh water). Like contingency and the artists themselves, it should just be another line item.
    Also, these festivals can be doing a much better job about the bathroom situation. There should be NO LINES EVER. More security at the bathroom areas too.

    • Henry Chatfield

      I so agree with you about the water situation. I believe Bassnectar requires that at venues he does shows at and it has worked pretty well.

  4. Sarah Battle

    MDMA does not cause death. These people most likely bought bunk drugs from a random person, and mixed it with other drugs. Dont mix drugs, or at least know what to mix, and buy them from a trusted source. always.

  5. Ravennome

    HYSL, Handle Your Shit Lady. Know your dealer, don’t buy randomly at the show from people you have zero background on or experience with. Use, as with everything (just like alcohol) in moderation. One of the kids that ODed at Electric Zoo did like 6 hits in a short period of time and who know what else they did. But seriously, 6 hits, are you kidding me. Also another question to, and to quote Jame Murphy, “Where are your friends tonight?” Having a good support system that’s responsible and has your back is key in any large social event where chemical alteration is possible. Hell, we’ve been partying for years and we always watch out for each other, know what we’re taking, test our stuff, and use product in reasonable amounts. The idea that MDMA could be stopped is naive, and pretty reactive. Eduacating partygoers on the dangers, facts and the things to be aware of is harm reduction and leads to responsible users, and really it’s the only answer because people are still gonna party. However, living in a fantasy land where people just stop doing drug is blindly dangerous. For example, most people say you should drink lots of water, but did you know that not taking in electrolytes and sodium with that water can lead sodium deficiency and the edema, which is deadly. One last thought, no one wants to outlaw booze or stop access to it even though drunk driving causes way more deaths than MDMA, they just suggest being responible. This now different.

    • Visitor

      It’s not true that Olivia Rotundo took 6 hits – that’s just something that got picked up in social media an passed forward like a bad game of telephone. Olivia was a GREAT kid. Kind, athletic (she was on UNH Dance Team and captain of her highschool state championship dance team) with a HUGE future, who maybe made the same kind of stupid mistake most make when they’re 20 – and didn’t have Keith Richard’s luck to cross the finish line. Very very sad. Tell yourself whatever you need to so you are able to justify your own bad habits. Responsible drug use is a joke. How many healthy 50+ year olds do you know (or hear of) who’ve spent a life doing drugs? It takes A LOT of luck and, if you can afford it like Keith Richards, certain medical advantages not available to most create some luck, but there are plenty dead too – and if not dead, aging with very severe brain and other body damage as a result. Very very sad.

  6. Jason Miles

    Nothing will change. Oh there will be a lot of talk and discussion but there will be more drugs,more deaths of young people because unfortunately that’s the way it goes. You can just hope that if kids take these drugs they just don’t take too many of them. Promoters can’t stop dealers because nobody has ever been able to,so parents educate our kids and ope they have some common sense. I think that I would even need drugs to make it through an EDM festival

    • GGG

      Uh, you listend things the “user” should know. You just blamed the user. As you should. Girl took 6 hits of molly at once, and then went into seizures. That’s a lot of shit going into your system.

  7. hank alrich

    These “blame the user” comments are a bit sickening. Bullshit. Education, water, and attention to detail are warranted here.

    When the promoters are working to make sure nobody dies on site, we have a real problem, with ethics a corpse by the box office.

  8. DirtySoap

    Feels like 1994 again. Blame everyone but the responsible one. Those are the same drugs the gang bangers and street young die from everyday. Hmm Might it be the fact it is young white people that attend these events( mostly)and that have passed?
    ps thank you Tommy Sunshine for keeping it real!

  9. JGertz

    I really dont understand what all the commotion is about. I am against the use of MDMA and against the promotion of “using it responsibly” but deaths at concerts, sporting events and other large gatherings are nothing new.




    I am very sad for the families of the two young people who overdosed and died but I think promoting EDM as any worse than any other typical modern day mega gathering insanity is sensationalism and possibly even yellow journalism.

  10. Brian J Murphy

    I am fascinated by all the comments on here about the recent deaths at the Electric Zoo. One person said it reminded him of the early 90s; but you can go back to the 60s/70s and here the same sorts of arguments being repeated on all sides of the question. It’s really Groundhog Day when it comes to discussions about drugs and festivals.It is also amusing to hear the comments from people talking about using recreational drugs responsibly (Isn’t that so not the point?) with statements like no who your dealer is, stay with your friends and MDMA never hurt anyone.Fact is I don’t care if your drug dealer is your mother the chances are no one really knows what they are getting on the street and ultimately everything is cut for a better profit. So, there is always a risk. The only way around that is if all drugs were legalized and regulated so that people would actually know what they are getting. Even then that still leaves the acting responsibly while on drugs statement. I was a heavy user of booze and drugs for many years and found that the noblest “act responsible” sentiments went out the window shortly after the drugs and booze started to flow. It’s a nice thought but its the dispenser of the product that needs to act responsibly because the users natural inhibitors to risky behavior have been seriously compromised from the drugs and booze already. (See point above about knowing your drugs). Really, if you are the dealer, than you should always self test your own product. If you live through the experieince then there is at least a shot other people will.Ultimately, even with the best of circumstances, mass ingestion of drugs by large gatherings of partygoers will usually end up with people becoming sick, injuring themselves and dying along the way. The real questions is what will be tolerated? It is the same question that has been asked for years…and the tolerance levels ebb and flow determined by the tenor of the times. But until we deal with the underlying core issue of drug use in our country and how do we really want to address that issue; we will keep repeating these discussions long after I am gone. It will just be about different drugs and different events.

  11. Visitor

    Fuck outta here with this sensationalist bullshit Paul, when has a crowd pushing a hundred thousand people ever been convened without anything bad happening? This is some shit I would expect from Tipper Gore, not a self-proclaimed avid music fan… tying a music scene to drug use or to criminal behavior is certainly nothing new, but you of all people should know that it always has and always will be wrong to blame music or musicians for ‘making’ people behave stupidly or malevolently… I honestly dunno why Im even surprised given the amount of poorly researched, straight up wrong and disingenuous shit this site prints but no self respecting music journalist should ever play this shit
    For some perspective that this article conveniently omits, Woodstock 1969 had three deaths and eighty arrests

  12. DKNY08

    I’ve been there back inthe day, and I know that kids will take E no matter what. Just like there is a lot of education about safe sex, we need education about safe partying.
    And promoters, please make sure you are giving out plenty of WATER! For free. Don’t try to make money off of water. Make money other ways.
    I believe that dehydration caused by too much euphoric dancing and not re-hydrating is one of the biggest reasons party kids are ending up in the hospital or the morgue. Our bodies are made up of 70% watter; we can’t survive without it.
    At John Digweed’s nightclub in Miami (Vagabond), there is plenty of water available everywhere. Please do the right thing and make there is ample water for kids to drink. Even have DJs do a couple of ‘hydration’ reminders if needed.

  13. Blame the Visitor

    Lets be clear for a moment. No one is ‘killing’ anyone at these raves. If you take drugs its your choice, no one is forcing to to do drugs. People always want to blame the music…

  14. S

    I dont wish death upon anybody but come on… Why feel bad and make this a story? Some kids overdose on drugs at a rave, no shit. It was their choice to be careless.

  15. Noah

    Drugs are everywhere. In every music genre (rock and EDM especially, though) there is certainty that you will see some stupid person taking drugs.
    The best thing to say about it is that you can’t judge an entire genre as “DRUGGIES” just because the drugs are easy to associate with EDM and the genre involved in the venue/event (in this case, Electric Zoo)
    Is it the problem of Electric Zoo that these stupid little shits take drugs and get the venue cancelled?
    Of course not.