Electronic music festival in NY canceled after deaths

Electric Zoo closes early after two attendees die; city officials say deaths may be linked to drug known as Molly

Concertgoers at the Electric Zoo music festival take in an act on Aug. 31, 2013.
Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images

The last day of an electronic music festival that attracted thousands of people to Randall's Island in New York City was canceled over the weekend following the deaths of two concertgoers and the hospitalizations of several others. City officials said that MDMA-related drugs may have been involved, but that test results have so far been inconclusive.

The officials recommended calling off the third day of Electric Zoo -- which featured dance music acts such as David Guetta and Diplo -- after the deaths and illnesses during the first two days of performances Friday and Saturday, and festival organizers agreed.  

"The Electric Zoo organizers have worked with city officials to reduce health risks at this event, but in view of these occurrences, the safest course is to cancel the remaining day of the event," the city said in a news release.

The two people who died were in their 20s and were pronounced dead in hospitals, and the four who fell critically ill were hospitalized in intensive care, according to police.

City officials said the deaths may have been linked to illegal drugs -- specifically Molly, a powder or crystal form of the MDMA-based drug Ecstasy. However, a spokeswoman for the city medical examiner said autopsy results were inconclusive and further toxicology and tissue tests were needed.

The event's founders, Made Event, expressed condolences on its website to the families of those who died.

"Because there is nothing more important to us than our patrons, we have decided in consultation with the New York City Parks Department that there will be no show today," the statement said.

The Electric Zoo festival has been held over Labor Day weekend since 2009. It drew more than 100,000 people last year, and some 125 acts were planned this year, including Avicii and Krewella.

The drug MDMA, which causes the release of large amounts of serotonin in the body, was first used in the 1970s as an aid to psychotherapy, according to the National Institutes of Health, due to the drug's effects of increasing energy, euphoria and empathy. The Drug Enforcement Administration labeled it in 1985 as a drug with “high abuse potential” and “no recognized medicinal use,” but today it is undergoing clinical trials as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety in cancer patients, NIH said.

The dangers of taking MDMA in tablet or powder form can be the additional substances that are often combined with the drug, such as ketamine, methamphetamine or ephedrine, the combinations of which can have hazardous effects.

At high doses, MDMA can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature, according to NIH. On “rare but unpredictable occasions,” this can lead to sharp body temperature increases that lead to liver, kidney or cardiovascular system failure, and even death.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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