Cocaine, “Narcan Resistance” & the Grey Death: Fentalogs in 2017

By Terry Gotham

If you follow the news about adulterants in the recreational drug supply, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the news breaking every day. Last Friday, the medical examiner’s office of Cuyahoga County in Ohio disclosed that they’re on track to obliterate their overdose record from last year. With 187 heroin/fentanyl overdoses on the books since Jan 1st, if things don’t change substantially, they’ll blow past their 2016 total of 660 overdose deaths by over a hundred people. If missed my last article, multiple types of fentanyl are now being found in overdoses & drug seizures. And I don’t mean one or two. 24 fentanyl analogs & metabolites were found in blood/urine in Ohio overdoses alone:

1-3-Methylfentanyl; 4ANPP; Acetyl Fentanyl; Acetyl Fentanyl 4-Methylphenethyl; Acryl fentanyl; AH7921; Alfentanil; Beta-Hydroxythiofentanyl; Butyryl Fentanyl/Isobutyryl Fentanyl; Butyryl Norfentanyl; Carfentanil; Despropionyl Para-Fluorofentanyl; Fentanyl; Furanyl Fentanyl; Furanyl Norfentanyl; Norfentanyl; ParaFluorobutyryl/4-Fluoroisobutyrylfentanyl; Para-Methoxyfentanyl; Remifentanil; Remifentanil Metabolite; Sufentanil; U-47700; Valeryl Fentanyl
~Research Update on Fentayl Outbreaks in the Dayton, OH Area, Boonshoft School of Medicine, Wright State University, 4/28/17

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Do No Harm: Safe Injection Facilities in Fentanyl’s World

Analysis by Terry Gotham

But until recently, politicians dismissed the idea of a safe-injection site as being too controversial. More controversial than people dying in libraries and babies picking up needles on the beach? Please. San Francisco has essentially become one big unsafe injection site.
~Heather Knight, SF Chronicle “Safe injection sites offer hope in scourge of discarded syringes”

I wasn’t sure how to start this piece, a feeling I think mirrors the paralysis many policymakers feel when it comes to moving away from puritanical, expensive & needlessly harmful criminalization of controlled substances. In the case of the city policymakers, the opioid overdose epidemic has gotten so bad, they may be getting over it.  The SF Department of Public Works collected 13,333 syringes in San Francisco. In March. That’s 430 a day. In Ohio, there were 100 accidental drug overdoses in Mongomery County, Ohio in January & February alone, with an average age of 40. Here’s the kicker, 99 tested positive for fentanyl, and, 56% tested positive for acryl-fentanyl, 3 carfentanil cases, and 24 total fentanyl analogs and metabolites were found in total. 24. The majority of the cases tested positive for more than one “fentalog.” But of course, straight from the report:

All acryl fentanyl and furanyl fentanyl cases also tested positive for fentanyl; about 45% of acryl fentanyl cases also tested positive for furanyl fentanyl.
~Research Update on Fentanyl Outbreaks in the Dayton, OH Area: Acryl Fentanyl & Furanyl Fentanyl Commonly Found in Overdose Death Cases.

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Why We Burn: Heavy Meta

(Returning to my Why We Burn series, I wanted to cast the spotlight on Heavy Meta, a majority woman-built/non-American Art Car that will be hitting Hyperborea (a new Ontario Regional Burn) and the playa this summer. When we last spoke with Kevin Bracken, we spoke about Brooklyn, Toronto and Opulent Temple. This time, I’m so pleased to have spoken to his colleagues, a group of kick-ass ladies who are turning this car into a legit metal dragon. Enjoy this discussion about Burning Man in Canada, dystopian, welding & being awesome. And don’t forget to smash the play button on their favorite tunes from Art Cars over the years!)

Interview by Terry Gotham

After hearing from the team that’s behind this Leviathan, I began to grasp just how different the perspectives of non-American Burners can be. While I’ve spoken to non-American Burners before, there’s a lot of good stuff in this chat, not just including the fact that in Canada, you can get high school credit by working on an art car! Who knew\ “the low Canadian dollar” could be used as a reason when you’re completing your Low-Income Ticket application, so all you Canadian Burners who need a little bit of help, take note!

Kevin: We actually have two teenagers who come to the shop regularly, Jackie and Alex. Jackie is indeed completing a high school credit by working on the dragon, and we met her teacher yesterday! The first time Jackie came in, and Alex too, the American in me was definitely anxious, thinking, “If they get hurt, their parents will totally sue me!” However, Canadians are considerably less litigious than Americans, and each of them came vouched for by a different maker space, which put me at ease. On top of that, Jackie has completed a welding course and a workplace safety course, plus she can lay down a nicer weave than I can on the welder! Obviously we don’t let under 19s drink in the shop (the drinking age here is 19.) Finally, considering I went to my first rave in Jamaica, Queens at 15, I thought it would be hypocritical to keep them out just because they’re young.

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DumpsterFyre Glee: Why So Many of Your Industry Friends Had a Great Friday

Opinion by Terry Gotham

Unless you were somewhere totally isolated like a private cay 40 miles south of Miami, you couldn’t have missed the deliciously schadenfreude-laden miasma of coverage and commentary surrounding #fyrefestival. This fuck up eclipsed the Pepsi, United, Nivea and all other corporate scandals this year so far by several orders of magnitude. The feed of one Seth Crossno, live-tweeting as William N. Finley IV gave us a window into what happened at the hastily organized pet project of Ja Rule & Billy McFarland. If the name Ja Rule is unfamiliar, please review this clip of him losing a drag race at the beginning of Fast & the Furious 1.

If the name Billy McFarland sounds familiar, I’m sorry you were tricked into joining Magnises, the network for rich posers. Get this, he thought he could fund & produce a destination festival because his last venture was this company that promised members could “unlock their cities and take their lives to the next level.” However, members repeatedly complained that they’d be contacted last minute to be notified that their tickets were not available. That’s right, to quote the Business Insider report directly:

Each time, just before the show (often the day before the event or even the day of) a representative for Magnises would send an email explaining that the startup would no longer be able to provide the purchased ticket and offer to help reschedule the seat for another date.

“They send the same email for every problem, but it’s like fill-in-the-blanks for what the problem is,” the person said.
~Business Insider, 1/24/17

So, Fyre leadership includes a rapper who was an also-ran in 2001 and a guy who pump faked trust fund kids, conning them into joining a fake influencer network. In the grand scheme of things, this is in no way the worst group of people to put together a music festival, but here’s the thing. McFarland has a history of grift and shenanigans, documented wonderfully in a timeline over at EDMSauce. But from a logistics perspective, neither Ja Rule or McFarland would be the ones actually “throwing” shit. Production companies have an army of leads, venue scouts, technical directors, sound people, lighting people, talent people, in addition to the entire hospitality/guest services battalion who are needed to be people people, for the attendees. While many mega-festivals like Coachella or Ultra or Burning Man are colossal endeavors, they’re not unknown quantities.

Festivals aren’t “big risks” for the people who keep their lights on by throwing these things. They are “deeply calculated” ventures with multi-year profitability timelines and insane amounts of market research. Ask any regional Burning Man coordinator. They’ve got a pretty good idea how many tickets they’ll sell, as does a seasoned EDM promoter or talent buyer at a venue. The costs associated with destination festivals are well known, given that there are a dozen successful ones thrown there every year. Holy Ship, Mad Decent and a number of other brands have done pretty well keeping profits ahead of costs when it comes to festivals on cruise ships and despite this year’s black swan event during BPM, Mexico hosts hundreds of thousands of party tourists every year. But, to hear McFarland tell it, they just started a website and marketing campaign before anything else:

We started this website and launched this festival marketing campaign. Our festival became a real thing and took [on] a life of its own. Our next step was to book the talent and actually make the music festival. We went out excited, and that’s when a lot of reality and roadblocks hit….
~Rolling Stone, 4/28/17

To hear these people talk about the massive challenge it was to do site scouting, some napkin math on flights/carrying capacity of the space, labor costs, and the tiniest bit of logistics analysis burned even more deeply when a “notebook” surfaced with planning notes. If they didn’t find it, I’d say they made it up, and even now, I’m still struggling to believe it’s not satire.

The allergic reaction to work that anyone associated with this festival has, speaks to how a lot of people think parties happen: You get a lot of attractive people in a place that has bass and beer and you’re good to go. McFarland continues:

The morning of the festival, a bad storm came in and took down half of our tents and busted water pipes. Guests started to arrive and the most basic function we take for granted in the U.S., we realized, “Wow, we can’t do this.” We were on a rush job to fix everything and guests were arriving and that caused check-in to be delayed. We were overwhelmed and just didn’t have the foresight to solve all these problems.
~Rolling Stone, 4/28/17

So, to sum up, McFarland didn’t check that the site had access to water, power or adequate plumbing for sewage (it didn’t), didn’t check to confirm that his site wasn’t being used for another event that weekend that had been taking place in that location on that date every year for 60 years (it did, the George Town Regatta), and didn’t produce any inclement weather, disaster or hazardous situation plans in case of emergencies. Oh, and they told the important people not to show up when it looked like they didn’t have it under control. Does this sound like the mud-laden disaster of TomorrowWorld 2015? If it doesn’t, it should. These failures have one thing in common: a belief that money and BEAST MODE can replace experience, well paid teams that know what they’re doing and days/weeks on the ground ensuring you’re prepared for every possible problem.

One of the secrets that you learn when you start working with people to throw parties is that the people who do it, especially at the street or community level, do it because they hate bad parties more than most. Sure there’s this idea that if you throw dank parties you’ll be rich, but that’s something you’re disabused of almost immediately. Venue costs, fickle talent, licensing, law enforcement, dude bros, bath salts, and a thousand other things put a damper on any kind of rags-to-riches success story very quickly. Events, underground or retail, may not be brain surgery or translating Middle Egyptian, but they aren’t something you can just throw money at like an app or a promising pop/rap/edm star. And reality reminded us of that on Friday.

This debacle has progressed to the “class action lawsuit & apology tour” segment of any really bad consumer-facing failure, with public statements in Rolling Stone by McFarland and an amazing non-apology apology from Ja Rule (after he was found). The eye-watering $100,000,000 lawsuit announced Monday is going to attempt to teach the pair a very expensive lesson. Honestly, didn’t have to be this way. The people I know who’ve managed throw profitable community-driven parties (especially ones that aren’t 100% licensed and legit) for years are some of the most skilled business people I know. And they’d throw a hilariously good party with even a drop of the capital Ja Rule & DudeBroMcFarland had access to.

By the time the smoke clears on this public lesson in production, how many millions of dollars will have been frittered away to not have a party? How much money was spent compensating Instagram “influencers” instead of DIY artists? How many video cuts of trailers and fantasy play were created instead of paying seasoned producers to create something truly great, not just for the elite, but for anyone who was willing to behave? Way better destination events have been thrown this year, with more than one jokester on Twitter saying they wish they’d gone to BPM. Which gets to the heart of why this commodified pratfall was so viscerally enjoyable to so many people you know.

These events, especially before the bro-ification of EDM, used to be safe spaces, away from the over-produced, airbrushed universe of Instagram & “Fuck Me I’m Famous.” The parties and festivals we all hold dear in our hearts were our refuge away from the exact people who are now throwing these events and bringing in their racist, elitist, “Commodification Rocks!” friends. This is the central reasons why the response was so visceral from so many people who do theater, fine art, marketing, events, music, live performance or any industry lateral to those sectors. We’ve mourned the money changers swarming our temples for over a decade now, and we’ve been able to do nothing to fight back. So when some fresh-faced kid and a washed-up rapper decide they can do what we do, only better, and then fail so hard it becomes the #1 trending topic worldwide on Twitter and earns coverage from the New York Times and every other major, they can’t help but smile. Not because they like to see people fail, but because many of them made similar mistakes, albeit on a much smaller scale. Even more of them have tried to work with Triple-AAA talent over the years, only to be told they charge too much, are too “focused on rules,” are too indie, alternative or not-corporate friendly enough. Any pro worth their salt has touched events that are recognized the world over, and they can see bad ideas from a mile away. NYMag had a great write-up by one of these people.

Maybe now the festival circuit will remember that you can’t jerk skilled tradespeople around, you should make sure your disaster plans are in place, and when the old Union guy says the thing isn’t safe, maybe listen to him. Hopefully we can all spend a little bit of money on parties & festivals that practice this stuff, and let Further Fyre Festivals collapse under the weight of their arrogance and commodification. And now, I leave you with a bunch of Fyre Festival memes, because that was a long article and you’re a champ for sticking it out.

 

Here Are the Drugs Americans Did in 2016.

By Terry Gotham

Every 3 months, the DEA releases the “Emerging Threat Report.” This document catalogs the various substances that have been seized and analyzed by the DEA over a 3 month period. Every year, the DEA compiles that data into an annual report, which in my opinion, is the best window into the drug taking habits of Americans available anywhere. The 2016 results are in, and I have to tell you, it isn’t pretty.

2016 was a fentanyl jamboree folks. While in years past, we’ve dealt with “bath salts” and N-Bomb and Flakka, these substances didn’t seem to be growing in popularity this year.  The chart above is pulled directly from the DEA report and breaks down the most popular emerging opioids & pain meds. 70% of the identifications were fentanyl, which means that 7 out of every 10 opioid drugs seized was fentanyl. What’s even more terrifying is the sheer number of fentanyl analogues that were discovered in drug seizures. As my regular readers know, the adulterant problem in the recreational drug taking community becomes fatal once opioids are stepped on with fentanyl. 42% of fentanyl seizures test for fentanyl and heroin, which indicates that more and more users are getting fentanyl in addition to heroin. It’s becoming more likely to encounter multiple types of fentanyl over the course of your use. That is a whirlwind of risk for dependent or recreational users. 9 of the 15 opioid substances identified (60%) were identified for the first time. To reiterate, there are 9 totally new fentanyl analogues in the wild that our EMTs, emergency medical staff & even toxicologists have little to no experience with.

I can’t make it any more clear than that folks. Fentanyl is being found routinely with cocaine & meth. That whole “why would dealers mix uppers & downers” question can be put to rest. It’s happening, and it’s happening so often, it’s classed as a “routine” occurrence by law enforcement.

Next up, the synthetic cannabinoids. The two most popular fake pot offerings, FUB-AMB & 5F-UR-144 accounted for 34% of the identifications. Yes, those are the names of the two most popular new drugs people are smoking when they want to get high and don’t want to smoke cannabis. The long tail of synthetic cannabinoids has grown over the last couple of years, but only 3 of the 37 different substances identified in 2016 were totally novel. This could be an indication that novel synthetic cannabinoids are not being developed because of market saturation or due to recent emergency scheduling, but we don’t have good data on preferences between synthetic cannabinoid brands or why some die out while others flourish.

Cathinones are following predictable if not slightly heartening paths. While we are still seeing a significant number of them in seizures & identifications, only 5 of the 24 substances were novel. Dibutylone, Ethylone, Methylone, a-PVP, and 4-MEC make expected chart appearances, but the novel drugs on the chart are interesting. 4-CEC, 3-CMC, 3-MEC are chemical analogues of 4-MEC, which is known as “second-generation” mephedrone. 4-methoxy-a-PV8 and 4-fluro-a-PHP are the next iterative cycle after a-PVP. These novel cathinones are entirely analogues of drugs that have been scheduled in the last 6 years. You can almost set your watch to it. And now, for something completely different.

Three. That’s it. 1 identification of 2C-B & two iterations of the problematic NBOMe substance that scared the hell out of us a few years ago. To me, this is an encouraging sign that the kids are alright. If fewer people are doing NBOMe because the community recognized the risk it posed  and rejected it, that could be startlingly strong evidence that harm reduction works. If lethal chemicals are not supported within a community to the point where they don’t have a market, as no hippie wants to go to jail for selling a drug you can die from taking, then that means something is getting through.

It’s important to stress, all of these numbers could be grossly under-counting the true depth of fentanyl analogue and novel psychoactive substance proliferation. This data is generated from the substances that have been both seized and analyzed in a timely manner. Even the DEA doesn’t have enough funding to test everything being seized, and of course, there could be analogues or novel substances that simply haven’t been seized by law enforcement or documented by clinicians or recreational users. To put what we know in perspective, I’ll go to the DEA’s words themselves:

There were 21 substances reported for the first time in CY 2016, meaning they have not been encountered for at least the last two years. This equates to one new substance approximately every two and a half weeks.
~DEA Emerging Threat Report 2016

Ultimately, the data presented here by the DEA itself, supports the hypothesis that the War on Drugs creates more dangerous drugs, especially opioids. Pain medication users can’t afford prescription meds and heroin is has become problematic to import. So, dealers just make their own opiates or import a novel analogue of fentanyl to pass off as heroin for your clients. Fast forward a couple of years and we’ve got the overdose crisis plaguing most states. The iteration on a-PVP & 4-MEC/mephedrone is in direct response to laws passed in this decade. Those drugs would likely not be in circulation to the volume required to end up in a seizure without their precursors being scheduled. That’s the main thing I’d really like anyone still reading to take away from this: None of these drugs being consumed in the vast quantities that they are, would be ,if drugs that are already illegal, weren’t. If you are willing to stop you addiction from any drug buy kratom online and get what you desire.

Of course heroin would still cause overdoses, and people abusing psychomotor stimulants would have problems if drugs were legal. To say otherwise would be impudent & myopic. But, as I illustrated previously, hospital & ER staff had a pretty good handle on how to take care of heroin/morphine/prescription painkiller overdoses. How many emergency workers do you know that have ever heard of 4-CEC or a-PHP? Exactly. One crucial benefit from decriminalizing or legalizing hard drugs is that we’ll have a much cleaner substance pool for recreational users to draw from. This will return us to a careflow that is familiar and scaleable. No hospital has the resources to keep up with 9 new fentanyl analogues a year, and if TrumpCare passes, it will be even more difficult.