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.

The Anti-Burning Man

The New York Times has a story about the Bombay Beach Bienalle at the Salton Sea in California.

They just had the first one, seems like it was a hit. Art, opera, and weirdness: sign me up.

The Times have coined it the Anti-Burning Man.

Last weekend, a mostly abandoned town on the Salton Sea was transformed into a pageantry of art and opera and weirdness.

The three-day Bombay Beach Biennale was free to attend, unpublicized and driven by a mission of local engagement.

Call it the anti-Burning Man.

The idea came from Tao Ruspoli, a Los Angeles filmmaker, who years ago became fascinated by the Salton Sea, a onetime tourist mecca straddling the Imperial and Coachella Valleys that has succumbed to environmental decay.

He started visiting often and even bought a house in Bombay Beach, a speck of a town on the eastern shore.

“This idea of Bombay Beach Biennale popped in my head because rather than play up the sadness of the place,” he said, “I thought it would be more interesting to play on the surrealness of the place…It’s such a mixture of contradictions, of natural and unnatural, of beautiful and ugly.”

[Source]

Forget Leave No Trace. These artists want to leave it better:

Mr. Ruspoli partnered with two friends, Stefan Ashkenazy, an art lover and hotelier, and Lily Johnson White, a philanthropist and member of the Johnson & Johnson family.

Last year, the trio self-funded the inaugural festival, under the theme “Decay,” and invited artists, philosophers, writers and other assorted merrymakers from their network of friends to join. It was a hit.

But rather than simply clear out once the fun was over, the festival has aimed to reinvent some of the abandoned buildings in town as permanent art spaces.

“The ethos is to be playful but also leave a lasting impact to the town,” Mr. Ruspoli said.

[Source]

The Johnson (and Johnson) family are full of interesting characters, to put it mildly.

crazy rich

Stefan Ashkenazy is the owner of La Petit Ermitage, one of the commercial hotels doing pop-ups at Burning Man VIP camps.

petit ermitage

And as for the third player in this trinity, the description of “film maker” doesn’t quite do him justice:
Tao Ruspoli is an Italian American filmmaker, photographer, and musician. Ruspoli is the second son of occasional actor and aristocrat Prince Alessandro Ruspoli, 9th Prince of Cerveteri and Austrian-American actress Debra Berger. He is the older brother of Bartolomeo dei Principi Ruspoli, second husband of oil heiress Aileen Getty.
A prince(ling), whose sister-in-law is a Getty. No big deal. Oh and he got engaged to Olivia Wilde at Burning Man and married her at 18 on a school bus
olivia wilde tron
The Salton Sea is a seriously trippy place.

This year the Biennale theme was The Way The Future Used To Be. There were more than 100 artists and performers, with attendance “in the hundreds rather than thousands”.

Carmiel Banasky in LA Weekly described the psychedelic space station and other accoutrements:

My first stop at the fest was a Mad Hatter-esque tea party, where cake pops (made by a local family), joints and edibles were passed around while fairy women made bondage art in the branches. Along the beach was a lifeguard stand turned into a psychedelic space station. Colorful smoke bombs set off at sunset through large sea creature cut-outs asked us to remember where we were, while the outdoor bar next door (tended by men in yellow bikini briefs) asked us to forget it.

Read the full story at the New York Times

Read the LA Weekly Story

See more photos on Instagram

An art installation on the sand at Bombay Beach. Credit: Jennifer Wiley
Photo

Artists explored the surreal setting of the decaying Salton Sea. Credit: Laura Austin
Photo

Men in yellow bikini briefs tended a bar at the Bombay Beach Club. Credit: James Frank
Films were screened at a drive-in theater featuring the shells of broken-down cars. Credit: James Frank
A performance at the Bombay Beach Opera House featured dancers from the San Francisco Ballet. Credit: James Frank

Sorry BMOrg, the Money Changers Are Already in the Temple.

By Terry Gotham

In 2006, out in the Deep Playa, about as far away from the Man as the man was from 10 & 2, there was this piece of art called Uchronia that we affectionately dubbed the “Belgian Waffle.” A massive installation by Belgian artists that we were quite sad never served breakfast. At night, it turned into de facto megaclub on playa cranking out some of the stompiest techno, trance and glitter house I’d ever heard. I found it to be a very interesting alternative to some of the American, non-fully electronicized camps that still played a mix of jazz, house, disco, alternative & live sounds. It was at times a dirty, intoxicated mess of fur coats and tekno music.

I had no idea that installation would be relevant as a metaphor 11 years later, after a Global Leadership Conference & insightful Burn.Life article on how the powers that be see the problems that plague Black Rock City.  People are finally realizing that the utopia they took such pride in building has become an unaffordable, elitist, mainstreamed event. The ticketing system, while a noble attempt at solving the “Burning Man is Full” problem that simply didn’t exist a decade ago, continues to frustrate long-time Burners & small/mid-size camps, the true bread and butter of Burning Man.

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Aesthetics vs. Community: The Trouble With Parties

Source: worst party ever.

By Terry Gotham

Over the last couple of months, complaints about parties from various “scenes” around the country have grown louder. The combination of ever escalating rents, the resurgence of Brolectro, and a layer of malaise & fear associated with 45’s administration has left a lot of people frustrated, demanding & generally pissed the fuck off. The days of wine, roses & $10 bar events featuring quality music on Thurs/Fri/Sat night are over, at least in major markets that attract high-value talent. On the East Coast there will always be exceptions to this rule (See: Vitamin B in NYC, PEX in Philly, some dope people in Baltimore & DC holding it down), but those places are few & far between. In NYC, the primo underground venues end up being farther and farther away from the urban core, lasting sometimes less than a year before they’re shut down by Co-Op boards, annoyed gentrifiers and world-weary poseurs. In 2003, we partied on the Lower East Side & the first stop on the L train. When you hear people joking about partying at Canarsie (last stop on the L), Cross Bay Boulevard and JFK, you know it’s getting tense in Brooklyn. So, as a public service to producers cutting checks out there, I’d like to describe why certain parties don’t succeed, burner or otherwise. But first, some terms.

For this article, I’ll be using the term “party cell” to describe the unit or photon of partying, as it were. A party cell is group of 1-10 attendees that make up the bread & butter of parties. They pre-game together, they arrive together they buy drinks together, they leave together, and head to after parties or home together. These groups have a history, collective memory & sometimes strong opinions about certain events. They also vote with their dollars. We all know that group that just disappeared from a scene after a member was slighted, or have even been part of a group that had serious infighting about attending a big party after a night where some of the group had a bad time. People are fickle, and only tolerate so much in cities where there are 4 dozen parties from Thursday to Sunday.

Community, can best be seen as an ecosystem of these cells. Lots of party cells come together, some as hosts, some as friends of hosts, and others as guests. While some party cells only attend events where they know everyone, others seek out specific acts or certain parties that cater to their sense of style, preferred dance floor density, or even make them think they’ll get laid. When it comes down to it, people go to parties for two reasons, the community or the aesthetics.

Aesthetics can be thought of as the various aspects a party is judged on outwardly. Lighting, sound, deco, talent, costuming, bartending/drink choice, even promo, congestion management & security can all be folded into “aesthetics.” The choice producers/promoters make in these areas largely determine whether retail/non-community based events succeed. Have you ever gone to a party and felt like the sound design, lighting, deco, and community seemed out of sync? That would be a great example of mismatched aesthetics. This kind of jarring dysfunction between deco and DJs, lighting and costumes, or sound design and bar placement can kill a party. Just think back to the last time you went to an event where the speakers were positioned directly at the bar. Didn’t go back did you? Oh, and don’t forget, intoxicant choice is also rolled into aesthetics. Who you do drugs with can be seen as community, what drugs you do, and whether they jive with the party is most definitely aesthetics. If you want to feel this dissonance viscerally, take mushrooms and go to a doom metal show, or smoke crystal meth before going to a psy-chill after hours. One of my favorite pastimes is watching hilariously drunk people argue with people tripping face. As a producer, remember that while you can welcome both ends of that scale, you can only cater to one, and your attendees will know pretty quickly what drugs go best with what you’re serving up.

A party that has a strong community will always outlive a party that has a strong & coherent aesthetic sense. The combination of a strong sense of ownership by dozens, if not hundreds, ensures proper attendance (through promotion & brand evangelism), enthusiastic bar sales (as they’re celebrations/reunions for good friends), specific, if unspoken social mores to follow (not a whole lot of disagreement on whether it’s a pants or no pants party), and security (safety for exploited minorities, sexual/cultural/ethnic).  If an attendee knows 10-50 people that will be at every party, their need for aesthetic purity or excellence in customer service drops significantly. Private loft parties prove this emphatically. The very presence of friends creates a buffer between the individual and the sub-optimal aspects of the event. By sub-optimal, I don’t mean to imply that having home speakers and the capacity for 15 people tops is in any way bad or inferior to Red Rocks Amphitheater, it’s just that private events are just that, private. Smaller events can’t compete on speaker wattage, paid performing talent or a full bar (most of the time) but because you’re in a safe place that doesn’t have bouncers or sticky floors, you don’t mind.

Being part of the in-group also gives you access to specific benefits that people who simply buy a ticket do not have. Knowing a couple of dozen people spread out between the dance floor(s) and chill spaces/smoking areas, helps you pass the time waiting out a DJ set you’re not feeling or until members of your party cell arrive. Without these people, especially if you’re not feeling the music or down to spend $100+ at the bar just to kill time, staying at parties all night gets tough.

If an event can’t develop & maintain a community, catering to their needs & enhancing their experiences, then the production must ensure that their aesthetics are high quality enough to attract new revelers continuously, while retaining regular independent customers & party cells. This is how what I call “big box” parties succeed. I call venues like Output, Webster Hall, Palladium (in LA), Space (in Miami), Ministry of Sound (in London), Amnesia (in Ibiza) “big box” because you’re partying in one huge room, that feels kind of like a hollowed out Best Buy or Target. These venues are by no means mediocre, and the parties that have been thrown at them over the years are the stuff of legend. But I don’t go see Eric Prydz at Terminal 5 because of the community. I go because of the speaker system, the acoustics, and most importantly, the talent. Most people don’t just go to Output or Schmanski or any regular venue in NYC “to see what’s happening.” They go to specific spaces because those spaces are hosting specific acts. Which is the reason why people demand line-ups at aesthetics driven events, but not community driven ones. The main dance floor at mega clubs can be very taxing, from a sweat/standing/cost perspective. So when promoters & DJs continue to say “show up for the whole time, why would you be disrespectful and only show up for a set or two?” they fail to realize how different the experience they’re having than people not in their party cells. If you only experience events on VIP lists, I can’t hear you tell me to absorb the orgy of moist violence that big room dance floors have become.

Additionally, the “what are you doing after 4 AM” question is integral to understanding why community-focused events are better than aesthetic-focused ones. A lot of the popular non-cannabis/alcohol drugs like MDMA, its analogs & many psychedelics, have duration ranging from 6-12 hours. Negotiating those hours safely is the absolute greatest determinant of having a “good night.” What’s the easiest way to ensure you do that? Go to an outlaw or private event that doesn’t close when the bars in your city close. My absolute favorite venue ever, Wonderland (Queens, NYC), stayed open all morning. I’m serious. I left the venue at noon once and people were still raging. In crafting this piece, I spoke to dozens of people who say the same. These days, getting from your 10-4 to your 4-10 has been ameliorated by Uber, Lyft & other ride sharing utilities, so it’s possible to still be fucked up as all hell and make it to your afterparty at Unter in Brooklyn. But, the best afterparties are known only to the community, or to those party cells with the resources to create their own.

This is why the obliteration of underground, outlaw and second/third tier spaces is terrible for Burners & party people alike. Without the spaces to throw community-driven events, people will be forced into commerce-driven/aesthetically focused events. Underground producers, long able to skirt costs by throwing outlaws while keeping events community-focused, have been forced to go legit, and develop big box sized crowds to pay legit bills. There are plenty of events that generate their income from aesthetics (their main draw being the space & talent), but try to wander out into the realm of community building, which is why some of that marketing from parties & venues seems weird as hell.

One caveat to all of this is that impenetrable communities are the worst. If the random kid who is fresh off the bus from Idaho doesn’t feel like he can get into the community, even if he likes the party, he’s not going to stick around. There are a number of community-driven events that don’t cater to newbies or muggles, with some Burner camps falling into this category. Of course, some communities pride themselves on their opacity, so this might not be a thing your favorite party even gives a shit about. However, communities tend to have groups of attendees that age out of hardcore partying, which signals a slow, painful death to any party that doesn’t regularly replenish its graduates with fresh pledges. And before people start yammering about how newbies just need to “make themselves a part of the community,” paths to doing so usually involve newbies providing free labor or ingratiating themselves into a group that gives no fucks about them. I’ve seen more than one person realize after putting in weeks of labor, they don’t share demographics with an in-group (such as race, economic class, religion,  geographic location or music taste) and conclude that it’s kind of futile it is to try to earn a place among that particular flavor of  Party Gods.

If you throw parties, be honest about what and who you’re catering to. Sometimes I want to see sweet lasers and feel bass in my sternum. Sometimes I want to go where everybody knows my name, and they’re always glad I came. Produce accordingly, my peaceful warriors. This is Terry Gotham, see you on the dance floor.

Do No Harm: Initial Prescription Details Influence Chance of Opiate Dependence

By Terry Gotham

One of the biggest problems with writing about the War on Drugs is the almost exclusive focus on problems. There’s this myth that drug use is a combination between a ratchet & Russian roulette. It’s going to keep getting worse, and it gets harder and harder to “not be addicted” the longer you do it. This continued narrative is believed widely (just ask your family at Easter dinner), while being only lightly supported with evidence. Harm reduction & physician/client education is surprisingly effective at mitigating a lot of the factors that contribute to this “it’s probably going to kill you” problem, but outside of needle exchange/safe injection sites & drinking water while partying, complex harm reduction ideas rarely make it into non-academic circles. So, I’m going to start talking about constructive, modern ideas and research that have been either theorized, published or put into practice, about how to fight this deluge.

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