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Report details Ecstasy overdoses at L.A. New Year's Eve rave; 18 hospitalized, one dead from multiple drug use [Updated]

June 10, 2010 |  9:21 am

A 24-year-old man died at home and 18 others were transported to emergency rooms after taking Ecstasy at an all-night New Year's Eve rave held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, according to a report released Thursday.

The report, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes in the same week that officials in the San Francisco area said a second man had died after taking Ecstasy at a Cow Palace rave held over Memorial Day weekend.

At the Cow Palace rave -- which, like the New Year's Eve rave in L.A., was held at a publicly owned venue -- authorities arrested more than 70 people and seized over 800 Ecstasy tablets. At least nine other partygoers went to hospitals with Ecstasy overdoses.

A 23-year-old man died the day after the rave, and a second man, 25, died on Sunday.

The report of the New Year's Eve overdoses, published Thursday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, detailed a massive party where authorities appeared to anticipate drug use.

The rave attracted 45,000 attendees, according to the CDC. Los Angeles police were on site with undercover narcotics officers, and 14 ambulances were stationed at the facility. Emergency rooms were alerted to expect patients from the rave.

The 18 people who were sent to the hospital were between the ages of 16 and 34. In addition to using Ecstasy, 10 had drunk alcohol, and five had also used other drugs.

The 24-year-old man died at home of multiple drug intoxication, the CDC said. The man had no chronic illnesses. The man’s friends informed authorities that he had “used Ecstasy and cocaine at the rave and injected heroin at home afterward.”

One emergency-room patient suffered organ failure, requiring a stay in the intensive-care unit after suffering a seizure and liver and kidney failure. He needed dialysis to detoxify his blood, according to the report, and remained hospitalized for 28 days. The report said that, after his discharge, the man continued to need dialysis.

Because those sickened had ingested a variety of Ecstasy tablets, health officials concluded that overdose was the cause of their conditions rather than contamination of the drug.

The symptoms of the patients were consistent with Ecstasy use, including agitation, high blood pressure and abnormally rapid heart rate, the CDC report said.

Ecstasy use in Los Angeles County was on the upswing between 2005 and 2009. According to the CDC, one drug-reporting system said that of L.A. County residents entering a drug-treatment program, the number who listed Ecstasy as their drug of choice jumped from 0.22 to 1.65 for every 100,000 residents, a 650% increase.

The CDC report said a recent national survey of teenagers showed a rise in Ecstasy use in 2009 compared with 2008 and a decrease in the perception of risk from the drug.

In line with the increase of the use of Ecstasy in Los Angeles County, the CDC report called the use of the drug a “possible ongoing and underreported public health problem.”

The CDC report identifies the rave as occurring at “a rented public facility jointly owned by the city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County and the state of California.” The state owns the land on which the Coliseum and Sports Arena sit and rents the venues to the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, made up of officials from the state and the city and county of Los Angeles.

The New Year’s rave held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena is called “Together as One,” and is organized by Go Ventures, based in West Hills in the San Fernando Valley.

Go Ventures did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Although underground raves -- all-night dance parties featuring electronic music -- have been going since the 1980s, in recent years, they have been held as organized commercial events at established venues, “often with high ticket prices and elaborate laser events,” the CDC report says, noting that the New Year’s Eve rave in Los Angeles County has been held annually since 1998.

The Ecstasy cases in Los Angeles have numerous similarities to overdoses after the Cow Palace rave in Daly City on May 29.

Drug dealing was prominent at the Cow Palace; a narcotics task force led by the San Mateo County sheriff’s department arrested 76 adults and three juveniles on suspicion of selling illegal drugs. All but three of the 79 arrested were from outside San Mateo County. Some came from as far away as Seattle and Los Angeles.

The deaths have prompted some local officials there to question why publicly owned facilities are allowing raves, which have a history of illicit drug use by attendees and which require substantial police resources to arrest drug dealers.

“Every weekend, there’s an underground rave somewhere. But the issue is that this is a state-owned venue. So the taxpayers, they’re paying for law enforcement to deal with this issue at a state-run venue,” said Marc Alcantara, commander of the narcotics task force at the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department.

San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier noted that there were also two deaths at the Cow Palace after a rave on New Year’s Eve in 2002.

“From my perspective, it’s a magnet for drug dealers. You’re putting our youth in harm’s way,” Tissier said. The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the state Legislature to ban raves at the Cow Palace, which is owned by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Division of Fairs and Expositions.

In Los Angeles, Dr. Brian Johnston, the medical director at the emergency room at White Memorial Medical Center just east of downtown, said he had for years noticed an increase in drug overdose cases during and after raves on Halloween and New Year’s Eve.

The demand on the emergency-room system is so great that White Memorial is asked by county dispatchers to handle the overflow of drug overdoses coming out of the Los Angeles Coliseum area, Johnston said. White Memorial's emergency room is not usually responsible for the Coliseum neighborhood.

[For the record, added at 4:42 p.m.: The headline on an earlier version of this post did not say that the man who died had taken multiple drugs. A 2:35 p.m. "for the record" incorrectly said the man died at the rave. The post correctly reported his death at home.]

-- Rong-Gong Lin II

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