Ultra Music Festival Raises Age Limit to Fight Drug Abuse

Ultra Music Festival Raises Age Limit to Combat Drug Abuse

The sponsors of Miami’s Ultra Music Festival have decided to prohibit those under age 18 from attending this three-day electronic dance music extravaganza. This is largely in response to the plethora of drug overdoses that have marred EDM festivities over the past few years.

Arguably the most anticipated of all the annual EDM events, the 2015 Ultra Music Festival is scheduled for the weekend of March 27-29, and before this recent announcement was expected to draw more than 300,000 rowdy young people to Miami’s Bayfront Park. The festival is timed to coincide with spring break, but has proven to be a wildly popular attraction with youth of all ages.

The Ultra Music Festival is only one of more than a dozen EDM events that will take place across the United States from spring through summer. Each of these mega-parties will be marked by prodigious drug consumption, and the number of kids running into trouble because of this behavior has skyrocketed in conjunction with concert attendance. At last year’s Ultra Music Festival, several hundred people suffered injuries serious enough to require treatment from rescue personnel, and a security guard was nearly killed in a stampede after festival-goers broke through a restraining fence. After last year’s festival, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado expressed his displeasure and called for its prohibition, which surprised many given the enormous economic impact the event has had on the city’s economy.

While the concert was scheduled to take place regardless, it seems likely that Ultra Music Festival organizers adopted an over-18 policy in reaction to the publicity they received last year. It is not entirely clear, however, that banning those under 18 from attending will impact the overall level of drug consumption. MDMA (Ecstasy) use in particular has become almost synonymous with the electronic dance music phenomenon, and when sponsors of a New York City show called Electric Zoo required ticket-buyers to watch an anti-MDMA video as a requirement for admission, the move was met with scorn and mockery.

And this was despite the fact that the final day of the 2013 Electric Zoo had to be canceled because of a rash of overdoses in the days before. Ultra Music Festival organizers also plan to ramp up their campaign to discourage the use of MDMA, which is most commonly known as “Molly,” but there is reason to be skeptical about how anti-drug messages will be received by EDM fans who don’t see party drugs as a genuine threat to their lives.

In general, MDMA and its derivatives such as methylone don’t kill users as frequently as other illicit substances. But hundreds of kids have overdosed on these drugs at EDM events over the years, and the handful who have died have helped expose the truth about just how rampant Molly abuse has become inside EDM venues. Users report that Molly magnifies the feelings of unity and community that accompany the EDM experience, giving kids a sense of belonging and shared purpose in a time where many see their future life prospects as uncertain or bleak. The concerts are an escape and so are the drugs, and as long as kids are convinced they won’t be harmed, drug-taking is likely to continue unabated on the electronic dance music scene.

But if young concertgoers were paying closer attention, they would realize Molly is doing an enormous amount of damage despite the casual attitudes of their peers. The organizers of EDM events are actually putting their profit margins at risk by putting out strong anti-drug messages, which shows just how serious the crisis has become.

It remains to be seen if the Ultra Music Festival age limit will make a positive difference. Organizers’ policy of zero tolerance for drug use is likely to be unenforceable, but if other concert promoters choose to follow their example, perhaps the message will begin to get through. In the meantime, drug overdoses will likely continue to plague these events, and death will continue to stalk naive young people who truly believe they are not putting themselves in harm’s way.

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