The Most Common Reasons People Need Medical Attention at Music Festivals

A first responder told us everything that's most likely to go wrong.
Photo via Yuri_Arcurs/Getty Images

A version of this article originally appeared on Tonic Netherlands.

Summertime is festival season, and for most festival-goers that means a lot of drinking, drugs, and sex in tents. With temperatures on the rise, many festival organizers have taken extra measures to ensure the health and safety of their guests. "Alcohol hits you extra hard in the heat," says Mariëlle Geraets-Timmermans, a first responder on festival sites in the Netherlands who specializes in booze- and drug-related incidents. I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t end up one of her patients, so I called her to ask about the kind of issues she encounters and how they could've been prevented. These are the biggest mistakes most people make during festival season.



Geraets-Timmermans sees this a lot: people who've simply ingested too much of a given substance. "We recently saw someone who took too much ketamine and was really aggressive. He tried to hit everyone who was helping him. In that case, it’s really hard to get a read on a heartbeat, for instance," she says. Geraets-Timmersman says most overdoses she encounters, however, are either from ecstasy or GHB. "It’s not hard to identify. Someone who took too much GHB seems very slow and someone with an ecstasy overdose looks super alert.”

It’s easy to overdose, especially if you don’t know exactly what you’re taking. "Most people who come in took a 200mg pill just this one time when they normally would take a 180mg pill. Or they've accidentally purchased a pill that’s stronger than average.

Have the drugs tested before you take them—if you live in a country that allows drug-checking facilities. This goes for all drugs—it can make a big difference, and could save you a trip to the emergency room. If you do decide to swallow or snort something that might be dangerous, make sure you have someone close by who isn’t under the influence. "If you're brought in while unconscious and we don’t know what you’ve taken, there’s not much we can do."

Combining drugs

The quickest way to get to the emergency room is to take a few different kinds of drugs at once. There are many ways to do this, and all of them are pretty unhealthy. Geraets-Timmermans urges people to be careful when combining alcohol and different kinds of drugs at the same time. "People know this, but often they still do it. A while back, we saw a young man who took ecstasy, GHB, speed, and alcohol. He was in bad shape; we had to rush him to the hospital. A combination of uppers and downers is especially risky." When it comes to people who've mixed booze with a variety of different drugs, the biggest problem is patients who won’t own up to what they’ve actually taken. "It’s quite inconvenient, because if we don’t know, we can’t help you." In short: No matter how questionable the cocktail of substances you’ve put in your body, go to the medical tent and be honest about it. Geraets-Timmermand and her co-workers in the Netherlands won’t tell the cops. "We’re not even allowed to do that," she says.


Taking dirty drugs

It's also possible you’re swallowing or snorting poor-quality or contaminated drugs. "When certain ingredients are overused [when making] GHB, it can cause burns in the mouth, throat, and esophagus. And that’s no fun," Geraets-Timmermand says. Again, test your drugs. Or if you're unable to do so, try a very small amount of the drug in question before taking a larger dose.

Having a bad trip

"Ecstasy causes a lot of bad trips," Geraets-Timmermans says. "[People] become scared, confused, or really depressed." The best way to avoid such an experience, she says, is taking into account how you feel. "If you already feel a bit aggressive, anxious, or down, [taking drugs could] amplify your state of being." If you don’t want to experience a festival in a haze reminiscent of a World War II movie, wait until you're in a more neutral or positive state of mind.

Injuring your head or foot

After the previous examples, you might be surprised to learn that many people go to the medical unit at festivals with issues that are unrelated to drugs and alcohol. The most common complaint, after drugs and alcohol, are foot injuries. "We mostly see people with sprained ankles and wounds on their feet because they were wearing flip flops. So wear decent shoes." That doesn’t mean you have to look like you’re going on a hiking trip, but definitely make sure you wear shoes with a sturdy sole. That way, you won’t have to ask a doctor to pry a piece of glass out of your heel.

Protecting your head can sometimes be even more difficult than protecting your feet. If you're in a mosh pit, for instance, your skull can be easily compromised. Sometimes violence breaks out, too. "People under the influence often end up in fights, and we see the results of that in the medical tent," Geraets-Timmermans says.

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