2 dead at Lost Lands Festival: 'People were dropping like flies'
Fentanyl is an unwelcome festival guest. Yet at the Lost Lands Music Festival this past weekend, its presence may have been deadly.
Two bodies were taken to the coroner's office during the event in Licking County. The true cause of death won't be known until toxicology reports come back, which could take 10 weeks, the coroner's office told Ben Westhoff, a journalist who is writing a book called "Fent Inc." — about fentanyl and other novel drugs.
Lost Lands confirmed the two deaths in a Facebook post Monday afternoon.
Two drug experts speculated the deaths could have been caused by fentanyl, an opioid that is deadly in small quantities, and which was present at Lost Lands. Tests of at least three different batches of cocaine at Lost Lands turned up fentanyl, said Adam Auctor of Bunk Police, a drug testing service, who was there.
Auctor said he saw a surprising number of people apparently take too many drugs in a short stretch of time.
"People were dropping like flies all weekend," Auctor said. "I watched a girl get strapped down to a gurney saying she was going to die." He saw a guy holding a girl screaming for help. "And that was in all of 3 to 4 hours," Auctor said.
Fentanyl is a downer and a painkiller. Often, it is added to heroin in order to strengthen the dose or extend the batch — to "stomp on it." It's been responsible for thousands of overdose deaths in the past few years.
It's mostly a danger to opioid users.
But fentanyl has been creeping into drugs that are not at all similar, including meth and cocaine. In Ottowa in February, cops found carfentanyl, an even more powerful form of fentanyl, on blotter paper that looked like LSD tabs.
At first, observers thought that maybe dealers were putting it in these drugs by mistake. But it's happening so regularly now, there can't be this many mistakes. The conventional wisdom is that the drug is showing up in other drugs simply because it feels good. Buyers might simply like the feeling of cocaine or meth that also kills pain, and buy more.
Because drug deals at festivals often involve strangers, there's less knowledge about the source, so perhaps its more likely that greedy dealers will trick strangers to make a quick buck.
Experts recommend testing your drugs with inexpensive test strips. But that becomes difficult when festivals keep drug testing services like Bunk Police and DanceSafe out. The festivals are worried that allowing drug testing at their festivals will give the impression that they're supporting drug use — American law is tricky on this subject.
Groups like Bunk Police are often kicked out of the festivals. Auctor said his group at Lost Lands were searched by security, accused of being drug dealers and threatened with expulsion. Auctor encouraged festival goers to sign up for BunkBot, which sends out text messages about dangerous substances, and lets folks report what they're found.
Three calls to the Licking County sheriff's and coroner's offices were not returned Monday.
Online rumors speculated that as many as nine people had overdosed at Lost Lands. That appears — at least as of right now — to be an exaggeration.
But not by much.