Ecstasy caused two deaths during Tampa’s Sunset Music Festival, held May 28–29 at Raymond James Stadium.
Alex Haynes, 22, of Melbourne, and Katie Bermudez, 21, of Kissimmee, died after ingesting the drug at the electronic dance music (EDM) event. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the deaths accidental.
An additional 57 festivalgoers were transported to local hospitals during the two-day event, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
“A greater number of patients required critical care due to suspected drug use combined with intense heat, thereby requiring more paramedics to treat each individual,” said a report by Tampa Fire Rescue. “This put a significant drain on manpower.”
Ecstasy and Molly, common nicknames for MDMA, have become a staple in nightclubs, raves and music festivals across the United States. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said in June the city should reconsider holding EDM concerts on public property. He believes such events contribute to drug abuse.
“Clearly that’s an event that we as a community need to reconsider,” Buckhorn told Tampa Bay Times. “This is not the type of event that Tampa wants to be known for.”
Sunset Music Festival has a zero-tolerance policy toward drugs. However, many arrests and citations at the event included charges involving Molly, LSD and marijuana.
Event representatives released a statement expressing their determination to maintain a safe environment at future festivals.
Ecstasy is prevalent in Florida. In 2015, 18 percent of law enforcement agencies in the Florida/Caribbean region of the DEA’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force reported high availability of MDMA — more than double the national average.
The drug has been a problem in Central Florida for years. In 1999, Orlando police swarmed The Club at Firestone, a popular dance club, after undercover officers made 34 MDMA purchases over the course of a few months. The raid led to three drug arrests.
MDMA has been a fixture at the University of Central Florida. Authorities have seen students consume the drug and experience extreme vomiting, hallucinations and numerous other effects.
Federal authorities continue to see China import large amounts of the drug to Central Florida.
“It looks like it’s staying here, which means there’s a user base here,” Jeff Walsh, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA’s Orlando office, told the Orlando Sentinel. “It is much more prevalent now than it has been in the past.”
Molly, a Schedule I drug, is illegal to manufacture, buy, possess or sell in the United States without permission from the DEA. Possession of less than 10 grams of Ecstasy in Florida warrants:
Possession of 10 grams or more is considered felony drug trafficking, though penalties vary by the amount seized:
|10–199 grams||Minimum 3-year jail sentence, $50,000 fine|
|200–400 grams||Minimum 7-year jail sentence, $100,000 fine|
|400 grams or more||Minimum 15-year jail sentence, $250,000 fine|
These penalties pale in comparison to the potential health concerns that accompany MDMA use. Authorities urge Florida residents to avoid the drug.
“It’s extremely, extremely dangerous to the user,” said Walsh.