Harm Reduction Advocates Push For Safer Venues


Echostage, the largest electronic dance music venue in D.C., fills its space with thousands on nights that the biggest names perform. With multiple safety incidents at Echostage including deaths, harm reduction advocates want to ensure attendees safety.

Three have died at Echostage between 2013 and 2015, and 190 unique EMS dispatch calls have been made between January 17, 2015, and January 12, 2017. The dangers of MDMA can be reduced with easy access to water as well as cooler environments, something that advocates are hoping venues can provide to patrons.

Some advocates are concerned that legislation could help keep concertgoers safe. Dede Goldsmith has been advocating for the amendment of the Reducing Americans Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act after her daughter took MDMA at an Echostage event and died from hyperthermia.

Commonly referred to as the RAVE Act, the new measure prohibits businesses from “knowingly opening, maintaining, managing, controlling, renting, leasing, making available for use, or profiting from any place” where drugs are sold or used. Many venue owners have said that the RAVE Act discourages them from providing safety measures such as free water and cool-down areas because it may suggest that drug use is taking place.

Overcrowding is a safety concern when venues have sold out shows and their maximum capacity is unclear. Venues also charge excessively high prices for water – Echostage charged $5 for a bottle and did not allow patrons to refill them in the bathroom. After hearing about the water issues, Echostage owners made free water accessible.

Goldsmith wrote to the Department of Justice, asking them to clarify the law in hopes that measures to keep attendees safe would be implemented. On January 31, 2018, she received a response that the Drug Administration shared her concerns. The letter also addressed the water accessibility issue and considered it a violation to deprive “patrons of water to obscure knowledge of drug use on the premises” or have “exorbitantly priced water to take advantage of patrons using drugs on the premises that required refreshment.”

This response providing clarity to the RAVE Act is a step towards harm reduction advocates goal of making events safer.