Music festivals and deaths. It’s a combination that is startlingly common.
Two years ago, between June and August, 2014, at least five young adults died while attending music festivals in Canada, with scores of others being treated for drug and alcohol overuse and other illnesses.
These tragedies sparked a media focus on electronic dance music (EDM) events and other massive, multi-day music festivals which have grown in popularity over the past decade. Now, a new study argues that more research is needed to ensure that authorities can properly plan for events so as to prevent more deaths from occurring.
The stakes are high. Many of these yearly gatherings such as Toronto’s Veld Music Festival and Boonstock Festival in Penticton, BC, attract tens of thousands of people, literally creating impromptu towns, where a host of organizational, infrastructure and medical logistics all have to go according to plan in order to prevent disaster. And with amped up levels of drug and alcohol use, the need for proper risk management at music festivals is at a premium.
The new study led by researchers from UBC and the University of Victoria breaks down the numbers and finds that worldwide there were 722 reported deaths at music festivals between 1999 and 2014.
And while the majority of deaths were as a result of trampling, motor-vehicle-related deaths, and structural collapses, a small but significant percentage (13 per cent) were the result of drug or alcohol overdoses, the most common non-trauma-related deaths.
Yet the study’s authors report there to be a surprising lack of information and research on the topic.
“Given that 75% of non-traumatic fatalities at music festivals are associated with alcohol and/or drug-related factors, research is needed to understand the incidence, role, and risks of alcohol and drug-related harms and deaths at music festivals,” say the study’s authors, whose research is published in the journal Prehospital Disaster Medicine.
One of the main problems has been a need for more reporting on deaths, illnesses and injuries at music festivals to public health authorities, say the study’s authors, who recommend that an upgrade is needed to create standardized, centralized reporting on music festival deaths and health incidents in order to help authorities plan and prepare for permitting, by-laws and coordination. “Because data are not systematically collected and publicly reported post-event, the actual number of deaths related to music festival attendance is difficult to determine, but the number of incidents causing fatalities appears to be rising,” say the authors.
A key debate currently unfolding concerns the option to provide drug testing at music festivals. A report last year by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse on drug and alcohol-related health concerns at Canadian music festivals argued for the development of a national framework for policing and security at festival events, including standards and guidelines for risk management.
The report also recommends that festival organizers provide drug-testing equipment to concert-goers to help prevent overdose and unwanted health impacts of drug use. Although potentially viewed as condoning drug use, the practice’s supporters see it as being realistic and preventative.
“We see more and more newer substances appearing in the drug marketplace and some of the substances that have appeared have very little human data,” said Matthew Young, one of the report’s authors, in conversation with the Toronto Star. “You never really know exactly what’s in a pill or powder or the effect it’s going to have on you,” he adds.