COLUMBIA, Md. (WJLA) - Howard County officials are contemplating a ban against certain types of concerts, known for attracting hallucinogenic drug use.
On Friday evening, police say 20 people overdosed on illegal drugs during a techno music festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Paramedics transported the concertgoers, all in their late teens and early 20s, to area hospitals. Tyler Viscardi, 20, of Raleigh, N.C., died Friday evening around 9 p.m. A 17-year-old boy from Woodbridge, Va., who police are not naming, later died Sunday. Both appear to have suffered overdoses from the drug "Molly."
"There's a lot of lighting at these shows, and different kinds of visual things that are supposedly enhanced by using drugs," Howard County Police Department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said. "That's the message that these kids are getting, and apparently they're gathering at these shows and using drugs to try and do that."
On Friday, a crowd of 10,000 young men and women filed through the front gates at Merriweather to attend the "Mad Decent Block Party." The traveling music festival, which jammed from 2 to 11 p.m., featured an all-star line-up of electronic dance music (EDM) artists including Flux Pavilion, Dilpo, Dillon Francis and Wolfgang Gartner.
Around 8 p.m., first responders stationed at the outdoor music venue began to notice certain attendees were acting lethargic or hyperactive. Within a matter of two hours, 20 individuals were rushed to local emergency rooms.
Viscardi was four weeks away from starting his junior year at the University of Maryland. The 20-year-old had recently posted a photo with University President Wallace Loh to his Twitter account.
In a statement, his sister, Chelsea Viscardi, said:
"We are devastated by the sudden loss of our beloved Tyler. He was the victim of a terrible mishap. Details are not clear yet, but we know this much. He was attending a music festival in Maryland with some friends. According to his close college friend who was with him, the afternoon was hot and he drank water that was given to him by others who were in the area. We believe that this contained a substance, unbeknownst to him, to which he had a toxic reaction. He was taken to a nearby hospital, but the reaction proved fatal. This tragic accident has taken Tyler from us. He will always be in our hearts."
So, was security too lax at the mid-summer techno bash? The Howard County Police Department and Merriweather Post Pavilion staff members say, not necessarily. Although law enforcement officials would not provide exact staffing numbers, they said a swarm of uniformed and undercover officers were monitoring the concert venue all afternoon and evening.
"Some drugs are harder to detect. A drug that's taken in a small pill form [like Molly] is easy to conceal, and easy to take without being spotted. That does make it more challenging," Llewellyn remarked.
Merriweather says it searched purses and string bags, and patted down all 10,000 patrons upon entry. Security guards did not permit backpacks. They also confiscated all beverages and food, including candy, gum and breath strips.
"We have more than a quarter-of-a-million people come to the venue safely each year to hear music of all genres, including this type of festival. It is, unfortunately, difficult to protect fans from their own actions, particularly if committed before they enter the venue," said Merriweather Post Pavilion spokeswoman Audrey Fix Schaefer.
Nevertheless, Howard County officials have already met to discuss the potential banning of similar shows and festivals, for fear of more illegal drug use.
"We've learned that around the country there have been issues with drugs at these similar events," Llewellyn added. "This is not the kind of event we've typically had here before, and we'll have to look at the future for other events going forward."
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), also known as ecstasy or Molly, is a synthetic, psychoactive drug that is highly dangerous, illegal and has no medical use. MDMA, which first became popular in the early 1980s, can increase heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, often leading to seizures and, in some cases, death.
"It's a drug that's synthetic, it's manmade; people put all different substances into the drug. Honestly, you just don't know what you're taking when someone hands you a pill and calls it 'Molly,'" Llewellyn stated.
The "Mad Decent Block Party" continues its American and Canadian tour on Friday in Philadelphia. The traveling music festival, which has 17 shows left in cities like Boston, Detroit, Las Vegas, Nashville, Denver, New Orleans and Dallas, concludes with a five-day Caribbean cruise in November.
"We were shocked and saddened when we heard the news from Friday's event at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland. Our hearts got out to everyone impacted by this," festival organizers wrote on their tour website.
The Howard County Police Department additionally issued 50 citations for under-age drinking during the concert. One person was arrested for assaulting a police officer, one was arrested for domestic assault, and a third was arrested for possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
The other 18 individuals sickened Friday have since been released from the hospital, and are doing well.
Below is a statement from Seth Hurwitz, Chairman of I.M.P. and Operator of Merriweather Post Pavilion:
"Our hearts go out to the family as they face the unimaginable. As a parent, it makes me horribly sad beyond words to think of a tragedy like this. We can spend every minute of the day making perfect sense to our children regarding the obvious perils of drugs, but sometimes it is impossible to convince them that this is relevant to their world. Youth feel invulnerable. Some refuse to believe they could be affected.
This drug epidemic is no longer confined to specific demographics, or time of day, or geography, or lifestyle. It's just everywhere and, and unfortunately, this generation of teens and 20-somethings has not learned this lesson yet. It's just heartbreaking. This particular type of incident is not the problem of those who should have known better...it's the problem of those too young to believe it could happen to them. Sadly we find ourselves in the classic position of trying to tell kids not to do something they think is fun."