A group of festival goers calling themselves the Bunk Police are on a mission to test the purity of illegal drugs being sold on the shakedown streets of music festivals around the country. They're finding that more often than not, things are not what they seem. From the Bunk Police website:
Since the inception of our group in June, we have tested over 2,500 substance samples presented to us by patrons of music festivals and concerts.
The results have been truly sobering.
Nearly 100% of samples are cut with one or more substances, and they aren’t using baking soda anymore.
Research chemicals, sold as “bath salts” or “plant food,” have become an alarming issue. Over half of “Molly” (MDMA powder) samples tested at Wakarusa, Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, Camp Bisco, Gathering of the Vibes and The Big Up contained large quantities of or were completely comprised of these substances. Many of these “research chemicals” present very real overdose fatality risks and have been in news all over the world.
An overwhelming majority of tested LSD samples were negative for the chemical.
Despite the fact that being in possession of illegal drugs can result in lengthy prison sentences, the Bunk Police claim they are not doing anything illegal and "have a very methodical process that does not involve possession by our staff." They have a lawyer and are branding their message and organization. The group has a logo, website with a schedule, and a Facebook Page where you can find results from festival testing or vote on where you'd like to see them next. You can even call/text them at (512) 200-BUNK.
I had a chance to chat with the Bunk Police (anonymously and through email) about what they're doing.
HeadCount: Why did you decide to start the Bunk Police and what are you trying to accomplish?
Bunk Police: The Bunk Police started... at the Wakarusa music festival. While packing for the weekend, I decided to purchase a Marquis substance screening kit (a very useful test that screens over a dozen substances). In using this kit, we not only discovered the appalling state of the current underground substance market, but also realized that there is an incredible demand for substance testing services at shows and festivals.
Our intention is to distribute testing kits to as many people as possible, and to educate them about the use of these kits. We have recently launched an interactive website at www.bunkpolice.org that will feature online ordering and instructional videos in the near future.
Once you test a drug and find it's impure, how do you get that information out?
The first step we take is to inform the person who brought the sample to us about its contents. Although we can’t control what people do with their negative results, a good amount of patrons will return to the person that provided the substance and give them feedback. In many cases, we’ll see the same sample multiple times, eventually leading to the provider being forced to stop distributing that substance. At smaller festivals, the impact of our services can be substantial. The Big Up is a good example. We watched the ratio of adulterated to pure substances improve dramatically over the course of the event. In the future, our group hopes to send out updates and warnings (with links to pictures) through either a Twitter or a text-based system.
Do you think music festivals should embrace this type of harm reduction practice?
Absolutely. In the last few years, the underground substance market has been turned upside down by a series of substances known as “research chemicals.” These chemicals, such as Methylone and 25I-NBOMe, are being substituted for common recreational substances, MDMA and LSD being the most common. The dosages and effects of these new (relatively un-researched) substances are substantially different from the ones they are posing as and have led to both short and long term damage in users. Another issue to consider is that the market is so flooded with these RCs in disguise that many frequent users are under the impression that they have a tolerance to something like MDMA, when in fact they have a tolerance to Methylone. This leads to massive overdoses when this user comes in contact with a legitimate MDMA sample.
Have you heard of Boom Festival in Portugal? It's an event with more than 30,000 people, completely free of corporate sponsors, and because drug use is decriminalized throughout the country, testing of drugs being used/sold onsite is allowed and results, along with images, are displayed with a projector for all to see. Could such a thing be possible here in the U.S.?
I am not familiar with this particular festival, but it sounds like quite a groundbreaking event. I am, however, very familiar with the legal system that exists in Portugal. In my opinion, they are leading the world in a positive direction as far as dealing with substance use and abuse is concerned. In regards to the possibility of an event like this happening in the U.S., all I can say is that we’re taking the first baby steps in that direction.
What has been your most startling find? Where was it?
Well, we had a very inebriated gentleman walk into our tent at Electric Forest with a sample of what he called “Charlie Sheen.” In testing this mystery substance, we realized that “Charlie Sheen” was not a single chemical, but somewhere in the neighborhood of five. We were able to isolate Ketamine, MDMA, Methylone, a 2C-(x) compound and some sort of opiate. Let’s just say the guy who came in with it was definitely not “winning” at anything.
It seems like the harms associated with most of these drugs, like MDMA or LSD for example, can be greatly reduced when available in pure form and also when information on dosages and combinations is provided. Would you agree?
I think you’re absolutely right. The key to reducing injuries and deaths related to substance use is to simply inform the users of the content, effects, dosages and dangers, be it anything from cigarettes to heroin.
Don't you think what you're doing will actually encourage more drug use?
This is a very valid question, one that I’ve struggled with since the inception of our group. In the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that our services actually work as a deterrent, and here’s why: the information that we’re gathering and distributing about the substance market is beyond shocking. Well over half of the samples we’ve received are Research Chemicals instead of popular recreational substances. For many users, this can be a bitter pill to swallow. ;-)
I'm always surprised at how little so many people on the festival scene seem to know about the drugs they're consuming. Do you think they're actually disinterested in learning about this stuff, or that the information just isn't there?
Many members of the festival culture are extremely skeptical of anything presented to them, so we have to earn their trust. The vast majority of people are very interested in our findings once they realize that we have a methodical process that produces accurate results. People will often stand around our tent watching us test for hours completely aghast at the results we’re finding.
Do you think policy changes need to happen? If so, what?
I can only hope that our society finds a better option than the current “war on drugs.” As far as what needs to happen, it’s hard to say. Portugal is an excellent success story to take note of.