How Can We Rise Up to Rave Culture’s Drug Problem?

Temperatures had dipped below freezing in New York when the news broke out that John Juan Mendez, aka Silent Servant, was found dead. As news trickled in, people began speculating. It was said to be coke and fentanyl. The Hollywood LA News reported that the catastrophe happened in a private residence, with two others dead: Simone Ling (Mendez’s wife), and Luis Vasquez (who founded the darkwave band The Soft Moon). All deaths are pointless, but some are avoidable. One thing is certain: This is not a morality tale. 

We’re not here to tell you which drugs are good or bad. We believe individuals should define their own relationship with substances: which they don’t use, which they do, and how and when. Just as the ones best equipped to make decisions about a pregnancy are patients and their doctors, the best person equipped to make a decision about drugs is the user. Drug preferences are kind of like sexual preferences: You get to decide what gets you off, and you don’t need to justify it to anyone.

Here are some of our beliefs about drug use:

Rave culture fetishizes endurance—“stay till close”—yet shames people who “can’t handle” themselves or “can’t get their act together.” We glamorize drugs, and then abandon people when they’re spiraling. No one should be shamed or ostracized for drug use. Raving has long been a way to escape, confront, or make peace with life’s problems: the dehumanization of life under neoliberalism, or the loneliness that comes with being unusually moved by aesthetic perfection. Drugs will play their role in this. While rave culture introduces many people to drugs, often with friends, it can easily—and we’ve seen it happen, many times—escalate to isolated use, unsupervised. 

During lockdown, drug overdoses increased by 30% in America, as high as 70% in some major cities, and rates have risen since then. Most people know nothing about the drugs they consume, because we live in a country where drug use is criminalized, stigmatized, and unregulated. If we end the stigma around drugs, we can build a world where people don’t die because of drug contamination. We did it with alcohol. People rarely die from drinking moonshine.

In the world of our dreams, drugs are decriminalized and regulated, so we always know what we’re taking and can’t be punished for that use. Harm reduction supplies like clean needles, gauges, cookers, pipes, and fentanyl test strips would be freely available, cutting the spread of HIV and lowering the rate of overdose. In the meantime, in this world that treats many drug users as disposable, here are steps you can take today for safer use. 

Whenever using pills or powders you didn’t synthesize yourself:

Because drug distribution is so opaque, no one knows why fentanyl shows up in club drugs, but it is most likely due to cross-contamination in distribution hubs that also process fentanyl. It is probably not an intentional addition. Just as it is important to be prepared for fentanyl poisonings, it's important not to sink into panic about them. If you or someone you know takes drugs and then passes out, some more likely explanations are dehydration, under-nourishment, physical exhaustion, and/or acute affects of another drug(s). 

So, how worried should you be about fentanyl in different substances? 

The information above is accurate as of January 2024 and based on conversations with people who professionally test drugs. We will update this list whenever possible, but the drug supply is never stable, so fentanyl could become more or less of a risk at any time.

Here are some tools for raving:

Most importantly, communicate to your friends about your relationship to drugs. Just start talking about it. Healing begins with radical transparency during real conversations with people in a judgment-free zone. You’d be surprised by what people in this community have gone through, including some of the writers of this editorial. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.