Lawsuit Highlights the Life-and-Death Treatment of Overdoses at Raves

EDC Las Vegas 2017EXPAND
EDC Las Vegas 2017
Shane Lopes/L.A. Weekly

A lawsuit by the parents of a man who died at 2015's Electric Daisy Carnival rave in Las Vegas highlights the mortal power event organizers have over concertgoers who overdose.

The suit against Beverly Hills–based Insomniac and Live Nation, organizers of the annual three-day affair, alleges that following 110-degree heat in the area, and with "long lines at the water-filling station," 24-year-old raver Nicholas Tom "collapsed on the ground and began suffering from a seizure" triggered by his consumption of the drug ecstasy, aka MDMA.

The filing alleges that, despite organizers' deployment of "roving medical teams" to "keep a watchful, caring eye" on ticket holders who might overdo it, Tom had to rely on good Samaritans to fight the crowds at the 135,000-person event and get him to a medical tent. But the process took 30 minutes, and no one was at the tent, his parents allege. Untrained "Ground Control" volunteers responded but did nothing besides attempt to pour water down his throat and watch him foam at the mouth and suffer from seizures for another 30 minutes, the claim alleges.

"Nicholas died on the floor of the medical tent after not receiving any medical care for at least one hour," according to the suit, filed this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The specter of an overdose victim needing hospitalization but allegedly spending critical time in a medical tent at EDC does not surprise Trinka Porrata, a former Los Angeles Police Department narcotics officer who is now called on as an expert witness in court cases involving club drugs like ecstasy. The suit cites her estimate that as much as 85 percent of the crowd at raves like EDC is on drugs.

"They try to get by with the minimum hospitalization responses as possible," she says. "They try to triage them, but if they're wrong people end up dead."

She says lower hospitalization numbers look better in the media, particularly after years of controversy and consistent partygoer deaths at EDC and other festivals that have plagued the electronic dance music scene. The festival moved to Las Vegas in 2011 following the MDMA death of a 15-year-old girl who had sneaked into the party the previous year. Politicians and media quickly seized upon the concert's high hospitalization numbers, and emergency room doctors later testified that they were inundated with patients — some compared the scenery to combat or gang-war triage — during EDC and similar events.

The 2010 two-day party had 114 hospitalizations and 226 medical emergencies, adding up to 340 cases of treatment, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. This year's EDC Vegas saw 15 hospitalizations despite consistently large numbers of people who sought medical treatment: 443 medical calls Friday, 305 Saturday and 342 on Sunday, according to Las Vegas Metro Police. However, medical treatment numbers can include anything from scratches that need Band-Aids to full-on cardiac arrest.

We reached out to Insomniac for comment but did not receive a response.

On Monday, the Clark County Coroner-Medical Examiner's said that 34-year-old Michael Adam Morse died Saturday at 7:41 a.m. at the venue, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Organizers list "show times" as happening from 7:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.

Porrata alleges that victims who should be hospitalized often are treated on-site at raves because promoters say to themselves, "Let's keep this as quiet as we can." This reporter ventured into the main medical tent at EDC Las Vegas a few years ago. It was well-lit, with dozens of beds and serious-looking medical personnel on-hand. Those EDC workers, however, objected to a reporter's presence and had police threaten us with arrest.

"We've seen where promoters hide the number of cases because people don't end up going to the hospital," Porrata says.

Brian Johnston, an emergency medical physician at White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights, treated dozens upon dozens of ecstasy overdose victims when raves like EDC were still held at the Coliseum. He says, for the most part, ravers injured by the effects of MDMA belong in a hospital, not in a medical tent.

"An aid station is fine as a place for triage and evaluation," he says, "but holding them there wouldn't seem reasonable. It would increase the risk. And, as an emergency physician, I would not want to be out at a battalion aid station without blood gases, chest X-rays and a group of people who could really take care of someone."

"They're really going to be triaging in the field and the dance floor," the doctor continues. "If you're hypoxic or don't have blood pressure or [are] overheated, you can do a lot of damage. You can destroy the heart, the brain, the kidneys."

One East Coast raver who attended EDC Vegas this year says he felt well cared for — "very much so" — after he visited a medical tent for dehydration. "They hooked me up to an IV and took my vitals," the festivalgoer, who did not want to be identified, says. "My blood pressure was high. I got two bags of fluid and felt almost instantly better. They made me sign consent papers and released me."

The Tom lawsuit, which doesn't mention a claim amount, alleges that the volunteers at EDC "who were available were inadequately trained or equipped to aid any injured or sick person such as Nicholas and ... were unable to provide the necessary first aid ... As a result, Nicholas died."


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