Did Astroworld Attendees Get Stabbed With Drugs? Not Likely

Houston police said a security guard “felt a prick in the neck” but have provided no other evidence that anyone was stabbed with drugs.
Manisha Krishnan
Toronto, CA
November 8, 2021, 6:38pm
Travis Scott onstage Astroworld
Travis Scott performs during 2021 Astroworld Festival at NRG Park on November 05, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage via Getty Images

Update 11/10: At a press conference Wednesday, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner admitted that the theory he originally perpetuated—that a security guard who passed out at Astroworld was injected with drugs—was, in fact, not true.

“He says he was struck in his head, he went unconscious, he woke up in the security tent,” Finner said. “He says that no one injected drugs in him. So we want to clear that part up.”

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Drug experts say it’s unlikely that an Astroworld Festival attendee began mass-stabbing people with syringes filled with a mystery drug—a theory bolstered by Houston police, seemingly without evidence.

Eight people, including a 14-year-old boy, died Friday at the festival in Houston, which was organized by rapper Travis Scott; Scott was performing as people in the crowds were being crushed to death. 

Scott has since released a video statement saying he is working with local authorities. He and entertainment giant Live Nation have been hit with at least one lawsuit linked to the festival, which Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña called a “mass-casualty incident.”

As news about the tragedy emerged over the weekend, TMZ reported that a man with a needle was possibly injecting people in the crowd with an unknown drug. The gossip site did not have any evidence to back up that claim. 

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner has since perpetuated that theory, telling reporters Saturday that a security guard “felt a prick in his neck” while trying to restrain someone.

“When he was examined, he went unconscious. They administered Narcan [the brand name for naloxone, which is used to reverse opioid overdoses]. He was revived and the medical staff did notice a prick that was similar to a prick that you would get if somebody was trying to inject,” Finner said. “That is one part of it. The other thing that’s very important: There were some individuals that were trampled.” 

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Houston police spokesman Victor Senties told VICE News the department will not be providing any additional information on the drugging theory Monday but stressed the theory hasn’t been confirmed.  

“We haven’t confirmed anything,” he said. “We still have an active ongoing investigation into that. You’ve got to understand we’ve got thousands and thousands of people that were out there, so there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”  

Attendee and ICU nurse Madeline Eskins told Rolling Stone she didn’t see anything that would suggest people were being stabbed with drugs. 

“They’re trying to blame drugs. And I will level with you: I don’t think this was caused by drug use,” she told the magazine. “Could it have been a contributing factor? Sure. Will they find drugs in the bodies of those passed away? Maybe. But people were getting suffocated. People were getting trampled, a lot of these trauma-based injuries. One dude had his face smashed in. He was bleeding from his nose, face, and mouth, which I guess drugs can cause, but so can getting trampled.”

Claire Zagorski, program coordinator at the Pharmacy Addictions Research and Medicine Program at the University of Texas at Austin, said it’s important to remember that because someone responded after receiving Narcan, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were experiencing an overdose. 

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“I could absolutely give myself Narcan and feel more alert afterward,” she told VICE News. “It’s kind of like a placebo effect.” 

The San Diego County Sheriff’s department was criticized after sharing a video showing an officer being revived with naloxone after overdosing from being exposed to fentanyl—but it is not possible to overdose from simply being in the presence of fentanyl or even from skin contact. Lucas Hill, a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Texas at Austin, previously told VICE News it’s more likely the officer was having a panic attack. 

Dr. Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and addictions specialist in Cleveland, told VICE News it would be difficult, logistically, to get away with injecting a bunch of people at a show. 

“It would not be easy to do. Anyone who administers medications knows giving someone an injection like that is very obvious and usually painful, but it’s not something that can be done stealthily,” he said. 

“Injecting someone in the neck is difficult,” Zagorski said, adding that the drug would likely hit a muscle, not a vein, meaning it would take longer to work through the body.  

Zagorski said when you factor in the circumstances that the security guard was in—sheer chaos with people dying around him in the dark—it seems like it would be difficult to make an assessment about whether someone stabbed him with drugs. 

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“We're getting very much into urban legend here,” Zagorski said.

She said Finner’s remarks, which have been reported by numerous media outlets as confirmation someone was stabbed with a needle, were irresponsible. 

“Police tend to think in these situations that it's no harm even if they are wrong, because it just makes people more vigilant about drugs,” she said. 

Marino told VICE News if someone was injected with drugs at the concert, it should be easy to provide evidence to back it up, including toxicology tests from people who believe they were injected. 

Finner has said homicide and narcotics detectives are working on the Astroworld case. 

The Astroworld drug-stabbing theory comes as spiking-injection rumors began circulating throughout September and October in the UK, after social media posts featuring the testimonies of victims with photographs of alleged, bruised injection sites went viral.

Though a small number of arrests have been made in Nottingham and Sussex, police forces around the country are yet to confirm that spiking injections do exist or charge anyone for them, and if they do, what substances or devices are being used and where they may have originated. On Oct. 27, UK police forces had recorded 198 confirmed reports of drink-spiking in the previous two months, as well as 56 incidents in which victims reported fearing that they had been spiked via injection.

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Experts VICE World News spoke to have suggested that injections would be incredibly unlikely. If they were happening, they would be significantly riskier for the perpetrator compared to traditional drink-spiking, and would likely involve some level of medical or technical training. 

There have been confirmed reports of victims who have said they have been spiked by injection, who were then found to have not been in toxicology testing, such as a case in Exeter. The social media panic has led to the spread of misinformation around HIV, too. 

But VICE World News also reported that a lack of standardized protocol between health care and policing makes it challenging to verify new information and threats efficiently. Reports around spiking tend to increase each fall—when students begin their university terms—and victims VICE World News spoke to outlined that there’s little support and opportunity to hand in urine or blood samples because their cases aren’t taken seriously enough. 

— With files from Sophia Smith Galer 

Clarification: A previous version of this story said it is not possible to overdose from fentanyl exposure. We have clarified that exposure here means being in close proximity to or even making skin contact with fentanyl.

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