Group promoting safer raves offers free testing for illegal drugs

DENVER - A teenager who nearly died after taking what she thought was the drug "Molly" at a Denver rave, is bringing attention to the dangers of synthetic drugs, which are popular at raves and concerts.

It's something some club and concert promoters are reluctant to talk about.

"It's easier just to not address it, and say, 'This is a zero tolerance drug free event,'" said Missi Wooldridge, executive director of Dance Safe.

Wooldridge says her goal is getting the conversation started. Dance Safe aims to be in attendance at electronic music events to provide free water, earplugs, condoms, information about illegal drugs, and more controversial: safe snorting straws and free drug testing, where partiers can find out what's in the pill or powder they're about to take.

"When someone comes to us and the test they receive isn't MDMA, it's not what they thought it was, nine times out of 10, right in front of my eyes,  I watch them throw it out or choose not to use it," Wooldridge said.

She said it's not about condoning or condemning drug use, but providing education that could be enough to change someone's mind.

"The intent of this is not to provide a false sense of security," Wooldridge said. "Every drug contains inherent risks and no drug is ever safe."

The concept obviously isn't without controversy, and some promoters just say no to Dance Safe.

That was the case at Skylab XX at the Denver Coliseum, the rave where 17-year-old Bianca Garten took the Molly that nearly killed her. 

"We actually don't know what it was," Garten told 7NEWS after 11 days in the hospital. "It could've been pipe cleaner, it could've been bath salts."
The organizers of the event, attended by about 10,000, said it denied Dance Safe's request to attend.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy in regards to illegal substances," said Adrien Mirhashemi, with Global Dance/Triad Dragons Entertainment. "While education should be the the cornerstone for drug prevention, current laws deter from prevention measures. Many public venues don't allow organizations like Dance Safe because it conflicts with the RAVE Act and would make the venue liable for condoning drug use."

The RAVE Act is a federal law passed in 2003, in part to hold club venues liable for drug use by their patrons. 

Wooldridge believes the legislation needs to be changed, but in the meantime, Dance Safe works with venues to provide services promoters are OK with.

"They can say they're not comfortable with safer snorting straws or drug testing," she said.

Wooldridge says she's never had interference from law enforcement, typically in attendance at large concerts.

Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson says DPD would enforce the law if officers had knowledge of drug possession.

"We're not going to sit back and endorse someone who's breaking the law and being in possession of an illegal substance," Jackson said.

When asked for comment, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Chief Medical Officer Dr. Larry Wolk responded: "We support any group or program who is working to reduce health risks."

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