Drug Policy Alliance: The Do Lab’s Memorial Day Weekend Lightning in a Bottle Music Festival Leads the Industry in Prioritizing Health and Safety

Summary: The Drug Policy Alliance releases a press announcement commending the upcoming Lightning in a Bottle festival for inviting the Zendo Project (sponsored by MAPS) and DanceSafe to provide harm reduction services at the large-scale event this Memorial Day weekend. “We just want to keep people safe, happy and out of the medical tent,” says Lightning in a Bottle festival organizer Dede Flemming. “We’re pleased to be working with groups like Dancesafe, Zendo Project, MARS and the Drug Policy Alliance to help us make that happen.”

Originally appearing here.

The California-based Lightning in a Bottle festival is breaking new ground in the United States by taking a comprehensive harm reduction approach to drug use at its event.  It is the only festival in the U.S. to offer both peer-led drug education and mental health services onsite, communicate about those services to its attendees, and evaluate their effectiveness post-event.

The festival, set to take place this Memorial Day weekend (May 21-25) at the San Antonio Recreation Area in Bradley, California, offers harm reduction services through the organizations DanceSafe and the Zendo Project.  DanceSafe is a public health organization working since 1998 mostly within the electronic dance music community to promote non-judgmental health and safety information, ranging from safer sex and “protect your hearing” resources to straightforward drug education that explains drug effects and safer use practices honestly.  The Zendo Project is a group of trained therapists and volunteers who assist festivalgoers undergoing a difficult psychological experience, whether drug-related or not.  They set up a separate “safe space” apart from main festival areas, and often work in tandem with onsite medical teams.

“We make every effort to be a drug-free event,” say festival organizer Dede Flemming.  “But we also know it’s not possible for any festival to be 100% drug-free, just like it’s not possible for any city or country to be 100% drug-free.  We are looking for better ways to keep our attendees safe, and a harm reduction approach is the best way to do that.”

While Lightning in a Bottle has had both DanceSafe and the Zendo Project onsite in previous years, for 2015 they are taking the added step of more actively communicating to their attendees about these services.  This comes as a result of a partnership with the Drug Policy Alliance’s Music Fan program, which focuses on expanding progressive approaches to drug use in nightlife and festival settings.

“Having harm reduction services at an event is an important step,” says Stefanie Jones, nightlife community engagement manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.  “But unless you let attendees know they’re there and what they’re for, you miss an opportunity to see those services reach their full potential.”

As part of Lightning in a Bottle’s expanded effort to communicate to its attendees they have added a “Harm Reduction” section to the “Ethos” page of their website, and will link to the page in a newsletter they send to attendees.  In addition, the Zendo Project will hold a basic training about its services open to festival attendees on Friday, May 22 from 4:30 – 5:50pm at the Pineal Playground section of the event.

As festivals continue to grow in popularity, there are more people in these environments who may choose to use drugs.  Simultaneously, the drug market has become riskier, as producers create new substances to skirt drug laws.  This confluence of circumstances has led to a rise in drug-related deaths and hospitalizations at festivals in the United States.

While Lightning in a Bottle has not seen the deaths and hospitalizations that other festivals have, they agree with DanceSafe, Zendo Project and the Drug Policy Alliance that integrating harm reduction is a smart approach to keep on this path.  To build evidence for this approach the festival has agreed to work with Mutual Aid Response Services (MARS), a risk management consulting company, to conduct an evaluation of the onsite harm reduction services.  A brief post-event report will look at how well coordinated these services are with medical, security and law enforcement, how well known and used they are by attendees, and improvements for the future.

“We just want to keep people safe, happy and out of the medical tent,” says Flemming.  “We’re pleased to be working with groups like DanceSafe, Zendo Project, MARS and the Drug Policy Alliance to help us make that happen.”