From The Trenches: Mohawk The Educator

(I have been waiting to do this interview for years now. Mohawk is a luminary in the NYC underground scene, my boss at New York DanceSafe , a spectacular dancer & a generally all around stupendous person. She’s throwing a party that you need to go to, and I’ll be giving two tickets away, so you have no excuse. But before you do, kick back and enjoy this long-form conversation with someone who is fielding a tactical force to keep your sorry butt alive if you’re partying in the Tri-State area.)

Mohawk, Harm Reduction Coordinator Extraordinaire.

1. How is the party coming along? Any new surprises to announce, or should we just show up and find out? The party is pretty much ready to go and we’re in our last week of ramped up promotion. I wouldn’t say there are true “surprises”, however I’m sure many people are hearing about the party through different sources, so beyond the musical talent we’ll have on board, the additional performers, vendors, and workshops might come as a surprise to many. We’ve been making announcements a few times a week, highlighting some of what’s to come. We don’t expect everyone to keep up with these announcements, but we definitely want to showcase all that we have in store. It’s getting pretty late in the game and we still have people wanting to take part in the festivities. Don’t bank on this type of event happening again–we host events with specific objectives and move forward from there. It’s a “launch party” of sorts, so come find out for yourself and see what it’s all about!

2. You’ve been doing harm reduction for a long time, have you seen any changes in the work/scene that you’d see as positive? Any worrying trends you are trying to sound the alarm about? I’d like to preface this answer first: I really only have visibility of what’s happening in NYC. In doing this work with a nationally represented organization, a lot of people assume that we all see the same things or face the same problems. This is not necessarily the case, so I’ve chosen to take the New York chapter in different directions based on what we learn each year. The good news is, people overall are becoming more “hip” to testing. People want kits! The worrying thing about this is that, people forget that drug use comes with risks beyond just the potential of ingesting the “wrong” drugs by accident. An obvious worrisome trend is how much do we need to fear fentanyl popping up in drugs, especially non-opioids? This is one with a lot of hysteria around it right now. It takes a lot of work to keep the most accurate information in circulation and weed out the sensationalism and myths.

3. There’s a big difference between being a volunteer activists & being a manager/chapter leader. What’s the hardest thing about organizing harm reduction volunteers and managing an org that no one told you about? No one told me anything, but I expected a lot of hardship, which is why I held off for over a year on reforming a chapter in New York City. I generally lack patience for unreliable people, but I think the biggest struggle has been managing and maintaining relationships across different chapters. We’re all volunteers–including the chapter heads. There will be a lot of egos and some trouble-makers. It’s rare that we have to deal with anything too intense, but when it happens, you’re usually left to your own devices to do what’s best in order to continue our mission in reducing harm. Making sure we can fulfill that is top priority.

On top of that, New York City is a very unique territory to provide service to. It’s a city of 8.5 million–THE most populous city in the US. There’s a lot of work to be done that can be done in NYC alone. This is our priority–not New England, New Jersey, Upstate, Central, or Western New York. Every year in NYC, the social and nightlife scenes change–venues close, new ones open, management switches hands, attitudes change, laws change, bridge and toll fares increase–it’s a lot to keep up with as a volunteer leading a public health organization in a city with a high cost of living. However with this, it keeps things fresh, it keeps me on my toes, and gives this chapter an opportunity to be pioneers in keeping this organization forward-thinking and progressive.
4. We’ve known for a long time that harm reduction fails sexual and ethnic minorities in this country. For those who might not know what that could be, could you give our readers a tangible example of what that failure looks/feels like? I am an ethnic and sexual minority. If I step out of the rave/EDM or Burning Man scene for 2 seconds, people don’t know what harm reduction is, let alone DanceSafe. When you’re at a Burning Man affiliated event, rave, or EDM festival that has harm reduction onsite (or none at all), can you count in your head the number of black and brown people in the same space? What about LGBTQ? Think to yourself, have you ever been to a circuit party and heard or seen a single person talking about or practicing harm reduction? I know I’ve been offered cocaine as a meal–and that’s not harm reduction. In many cases, I don’t think the problem is so much that people don’t recognize this is an issue, but few know the best ways to try to address it.
TripSit - Drug Combination Chart
5. What dumb-ass behaviors pop up no matter the party, scene, music, age or mix of attendees? Are there any bad things that drug users do that you would say are universal? Mix alcohol with virtually any other drug. Not only does it not potentiate the good effects of any substance outside of maybe THC, it usually decreases many of the desirable effects of the other substances being taken. Drinking is habitual in social settings for many people, so few think about the side effects from this volatile combination. I refer people to the TripSit chart in case they don’t believe me. Some have argued that cocaine and alcohol are a “good” combination, but when I attack these viewpoints, it’s from a harm reduction standpoint. Alcohol and cocaine is a unique combination, as it actually results in the creation of another recreational drug of its own inside of the body called “cocaethylene”. I’m sure many people “enjoy” the mixing of substances as it prolongs the euphoria for marginally longer (like 1 hour in total), however, it exponentially increases risk, as it also carries an 18- to 25-fold increase over cocaine alone in risk of immediate death. With that level of danger involved, my personal recommendation would be to find a different (and cheaper) high.
More Harm Reduction Cards for use with attendees
6. Best place to do harm reduction? Whether it’s a country, festival, party, or branded hang out, where would you always go do harm reduction if asked? Kind of a tough question, as I’ve done harm reduction in several countries and dozens of areas in the USA. I like the thrill of “mixing it up”, and learning from different perspectives and trying to take on new harm reduction challenges. Providing services to the same groups over and over gets stale, and starts to feel ineffective (although it’s an easy fundraising opportunity, no doubt). I would probably have to go with Europe or South Africa. If I had to choose a single country–the Netherlands. Aside from the struggle to find a hairdresser (for the record, Kinki Kappers is the go-to) the attitudes around drug use are far more tolerant, and it blows my mind that I can walk into a public facility to have my drugs checked–in private. North America feels lightyears away from being as tolerant and effective in harm reduction. Cocaine and MDMA deaths seem to mostly occur because the drugs are too strong, not because they are adulterated or misrepresented. Fentanyl is not a “problem”. People with opioid addictions can receive proper treatment and care instead of jail sentences and isolation. The Dutch teenagers are generally more informed than many American adults I’ve encountered, and when they aren’t informed, they’re extremely receptive of the information. I’ve had a conversation with an 11 year old boy and 14 year old girl who know more about drugs and harm reduction than the average person my age (31). I enjoy being intellectually stimulated, so doing harm reduction in a culture where drug use isn’t shamed so much is refreshing. Instead of debating with people over arbitrary distinctions between drugs or people that use drugs that are plant-based versus synthetic, or legal versus illegal, or talking about only misrepresentation, we get to talk more about physiology, behavioral patterns, etc. (I’ve attached two pictures of the card game they use as talking points. A person chooses a card blindly from this deck)Card From Harm Reduction Efforts
7. If I had a magic wand and you could do harm reduction at any party, festival, or event in the world, where would you go? I’d stay right here in NYC and do harm reduction at Electric Zoo because it needs it, but still need a lot of convincing to properly bring harm reduction onsite. I’d rather be impacting my local community.
8. Moreover, if you could make one change to drug or health laws, what would it be? Decriminalize all drugs, and strategically legalize others. But since we can only change 1 law, decriminalization on the federal level is where I would start. In many people’s minds decriminalization means complete anarchy and debauchery, but that’s not what that means. Many Americans can’t wrap their minds around these concepts that places like Portugal have already implemented. An analogy that Carl Hart used in his Ted Talk “Let’s quit abusing drug users”, is that… “decriminalization would be like treating drugs like a traffic violation. Someone might be required to pay a fine if they’re caught with possessing illegal drugs, but they will not be subjected to criminal prosecution”. In the case of Portugal and other similar countries, a jury determines if the use is recreational/infrequent or problematic, and if so, then they are sent to treatment.
9. While building out this amazing event, what have you been listening to these days? I’ve been pretty bored with my normal playlist of electronic music (varying from chill wave and other downtempo genres, dance music like house and techno, and extremes like Shranz and IDM) to listening to electro boogie, funk, and oldies. When you work this hard, sometimes you need a little (or a lot of) Gap Band, Zapp & Roger, Prince, and Earth Wind & Fire and to sing “Love Machine” with all your soul.
10. MLK Jr. said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but tends towards justice. We’ve been doing this for a long time. Do you think it’s getting better or worse out there? I think somehow it seems to be rubberbanding back and forth–but that just may be my limited American perspective. When I travel, I see lots of little good things in the world. It really depends on what timeline you’re living in and what point of view you’re seeing it from.

Don’t miss the party on the 19th, I’ll be there working, dancing and harm reducing with the rest of the NY DanceSafe crew. And, if you want a shot to win 2 free tickets to the event, make sure to follow @terrygotham on Twitter, because more info on that is coming up Wednesday morning!

Ten Questions With Terry Gotham: Dede Goldsmith, Amend The Rave Act Founder

(I was given the incredible honor of speaking to Dede Goldsmith, mother of Shelley Goldsmith, who died of heatstroke in Washington DC at a dance event. Mrs. Goldsmith is leading an army of artists, non-profits, volunteers & activists to Amend The Rave Act. Join ravelrie, NY DanceSafe, Stay Safe Seattle & I as we talk about her work!)
1. Can you tell us a little bit about Shelley & how she inspired you to begin this massively important campaign? Shelley was an amazing young person. She was full of life, ready to tackle the world’s injustices head on. From an early age, she viewed herself as a citizen of the world. Although active politically her whole life, (I worked for our local congressman for 28 years so she had little choice!) the events of 9/11 cemented her role as an activist for international peace through justice. Continue reading

We’ve Reversed The Google Ad Words Ban But MDMA: The Movie Still Needs Your Help!

Emanuel Sferios, The founder of the national organization over 15 years ago, has been working on a documentary movie about MDMA, as all of you are aware of, is extremely popular in our culture, especially today as it’s often targeted in music and the media and almost always misrepresented and misinformed. This film explores its history and use today. And yes, it’s not just some small pet project. Thump from VICE has already covered it and the media campaign is heating up. So much in fact, that Google Ad Words had banned them from advertising. That’s right ladies & gentlemen, Google believed that the first film ever to discuss the harm reduction potential of MDMA and the research surrounding it as a PTSD medication, so Emanuel was told they can’t advertise using the dominant advertising platform of our time, because drugs. That’s why the video you clicked on above this paragraph, was the one that they (temporarily) banned.

In one of Google’s dumber moves this side of Google+ & Wave (you remember those right?), they decided that this movie “promotes” drug use, and will not allow the movie to advertise. This has put the brakes on the fundraising inertia it was developing, but they’re still moving along at a brisk pace. However, in a stunning reversal after a serious crowd-sourced push to get Google to change their minds, THEY HAVE! To celebrate, I’m bringing you a few tidbits from the movie that I hope you’ll watch & donate to/for. First off, Dr. Julie Holland, one of the foremost clinicians in the world when it comes to dealing with substance use, MDMA-use & general rave-related behavior from the drug standpoint. Lastly we’ve got Dede Goldsmith, founder of the Amend The Rave Act movement we’ve been discussing around these parts off and on for months. Both of these ladies are exceptionally relevant within the movement, so please watch & then dig deep.

Attend: Vitamin B Presents About:Face

I don’t say this very often, but this event is truly important. Not only is it going to be a sweet party with some of the best breaks anywhere on the planet at this point. Not only is it going to be at The Paper Box, one of the last semi-retail venues in the area of Brooklyn it’s in. Not only is DanceSafe going to be there (so happy about this), but it’s to help one of my favorite people. Lexi, or as you know her, Illexxandra has been producing some of the most innovative & infectious dance beats Brooklyn has ever seen, and she needs our help. Because Vitamin B has actually created a community over the years, it’s coming together to support her in her time of need. For this reason, above all else, you should support this party. This is what community in dance culture looks like, and we need to lionize it as such. The music will of course be second to none.I won’t go on about Lexi anymore, so just put the bass in your face. Tim The Enchanter continues his global quest to get people to go “omg breaks are dope” that is shaping up quite nicely actually, as his recent work illustrates. There’s always been an accessibility to the genre when Tim gets behind the decks which I think other DJs could take notes from.Tektite is one of my favorite truly real people in Brooklyn. His taste in music, food & design are all second to none, as this perfect set of his illustrates.  Shisaa is a recent addition to the team but acquits herself quite nicely. This is some global bass that fits in perfectly with the rest of the Justice League.  I wanted to save this for last because it’s gigantic. Parametric’s 2.5hr Vitamin B set from their 6th Anniversary. As I said, this is a group that is a true member of the community. Get tickets here and drop by the DanceSafe booth when you get there. If you’d like to donate to her fund personally, show this link some love. This is what we’ve been fighting for ladies & gentlemen.

MDMA, Molly & The Movie!

unnamedThis afternoon with Ravelrie, NY DanceSafe & Stay Safe Seattle , I’m talking Molly, MDMA, the Love Drug, and all those wacky names Gen X’ers gave it back when you could still buy it at the bar. The name is short for 3, 4-methylenedixy-methamphetamine, so, yes, it’ll be referred to as MDMA. Not the pills you take, not the caps you got at a festival that one time, the actual drug. Because, as we’ve seen MDMA isn’t freaking pure. And when it’s pure, it’s incredibly strong. While pills used to be cut with filler, Stacker 2 or other fat burning over-the-counter faux stimulants (who remembers Dexatrim?!), now, the caps of “molly” or the baggies you see kids “dip” into at festivals have stuff that we can’t readily identify. This quote from the Miami PD explains the point better than I could.

“According to the Miami Police Department, methylone and mephedrone, along with another synthetic cathinone called 4-MEC, account for the vast bulk of the molly seized by narcotics cops in the area. A DEA spokesperson told me that in the first six months of 2013, the DEA’s Miami field office seized 106 consignments of molly, which contained 43 different substances, 19 of them so obscure even government chemists couldn’t identify them. So much for purity.” ~Playboy

To be clear, that means that not only are kids doing drugs that they can’t readily identify, they’re doing drugs chemists & VICE squads can’t readily identify. When dozens of new research chemicals come to light every year, the law can’t keep up. We’ve got MAPS doing as much as they can to get the word out, but they need help. So, to that end, the founder of DanceSafe would like to share with you his cinematic debut. This is going to be providing a fantastic history, overview and analysis of the drug, and the current effects it has on dance culture, its medical role in PTSD & harm reduction associated with it. For more info, check out the trailer below:

LSD, Adulterants & Killing The Vibe

This week, I’ll be talking about LSD testing. A somewhat taboo subject, the NY DanceSafe chapter, Ravelrie, Stay Safe Seattle & I really think this needs to be discussed. The appeal of and demand for LSD isn’t going away anytime soon, and now, for the first time ever, there are analogues that are deeply harmful & violently different than the drug you actually want.  There’s a lot of good information out there for people who are looking for it, but the problem isn’t just that we’ve got plebes running around. It’s that there’s now, and I do mean only in the last 5 years, a few different things that are very much NOT LSD, but people attempt to pass off as at events. In this post I’ll be briefly reviewing a few of the things commonly being passed off as LSD, but first I want to stress something.

Again, LSD is tasteless unless it is highly concentrated – as in more than would normally fit on a blotter or in a drop of liquid. Liquid LSD is usually a mixture of the crystalline substance and either distilled water or alcohol, which both lack a bitter flavor. If your sample has a taste, especially a bitter one, it may indicate the presence of another substance.

I’m not sure how to emphasize this point made by The Bunk Police more. If someone is trying to sell you on LSD being “good” because of how it tastes, that is either a dealer who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or actively trying to pass off another drug as what you’re asking for. In either case, fly you fools. That being said, here they are, the things you’re probably getting sold if you’re meeting some shady dude at a festival to buy.

That fun looking fella is DOI. DOI is generally seen as the more stimulant-y version of LSD for people in the know. For a lot of people, psychedelics have a significant amphetamine-like effect, and this stuff packs even more of a punch. I think this is important to note. This drug has been noted to be more stressful on the body while giving more energy, to the point where sleep is exceptionally difficult for days. This stuff is marketed as “good” LSD because of the stimulant punch. Ask anyone who has ever been done tripping and just wants to sleep whether they’d want to have that feeling stretched out for another 24-48hrs and you can see why I’m not an advocate. Also, it’s still a research chemical, so we have no idea if 30 years from now you’ll grow an ear or something. Just sayin’

Pictured above is 25C-C-NBOMe, which is one of the couple of different NBOMe bad ideas roaming the party scene currently. I wrote about NBOMe previously and maintain that NBOMe is worse than Ebola. I’ve been largely vindicated in that, but that’s the problem. This stuff is put on blotter and people are taking massive amounts, as it’s psychoactive at the microgram dose. This is the thing that’s been causing ODs & hospitalizations across the festival scene and is scarier than anything else out there. If you don’t test, you might find this stuff instead, which is bad news bears.

Sadly I wasn’t able to find a .gif to go 3 for 3, but AMT is another thing you might get instead of LSD. Differently than DOI, people who know what they’re taking take this because it’s reported to give symptomatology that seems to mix a couple of different drugs such as DMT, MDMA & psilocybin. However, there’s a butt-ton of side effects. Butt-ton is a technical term, it stands for, a bunch in combinations that will probably ruin your day. Additionally it’s got MAOI-style effects, which brings up an entire world of dietary complications that most LSD users will totally overlook. This means you go from zero to enzyme-level fucked up very quickly. Again, also a research chemical, so we got no idea what will happen to you. Your mitochondria could explode. We don’t know!

This isn’t meant to be garbage DEA-styled scare tactics, but to drive home one simple point. People want a drug, because the experience they attribute to taking that drug is something they want. They can’t find it, so instead of not having this experience, they either find other drugs that do similar things, or some pusher comes in claiming the stuff he’s got is that. These substances can mess your body up, while LSD is a physically harmless substance. Our current drug policy has allowed these terrible chemicals onto our streets & dance floors. Until we can change that, make sure you test your stuff, don’t believe the hype, and be excellent to each other. For more on this, check out #DFFryday on Twitter at 4:30 PM. We’ll be there, getting the word out.

Spice, Or What Happens When Frontier Capitalism & Psychopharmacology Collide

EgqnRypWhen you create a prison system so bad we regularly joke about forcible rape as a penalty, people really don’t like breaking the law. And because of that, certain people apparently will never smoke pot. They will however, smoke a whole lot of this stuff. I should know. Someone I lived with smoked it by the fist full. To explain why K2 or Spice is popular, we need to understand what cannabinoids, the things that get you “high” are. Because there are chemicals in your brain right now, that your brain makes, that are analagous to THC. That’s right, your brain can get you high any time you want. One of these endocannabinoids (literally “internal cannabinoids”) is called CB1, and it does…quite a bit.

So, this stuff is kind of bizarre, because a lot of the early ones, were just straight CB1 stimulating chemicals, sprayed on potpurri. Literally, someone got the idea to just take the test chemicals used in lab procedures to explore this chemical system & stimulate it directly. It’s such a perfect metaphor for both the the explosiveness of a “had an experience/want stronger version “behavioral cycle, but how our markets meet the needs of our consumers, no matter how complex. These different brands littered gas stations, delis and convenience stores all over the country, as they were legal, “not for consumption” and you got a gram or two for 20 bucks. Proof of exactly what can happen when profiteering combine with poorly constructed & implemented drug laws. The vast majority of the K2/Spice/Synthetic herb brands out there are largely unlabeled and have generated state bans as early as 2010.

If you’ve been playing along on these Friday posts, we’ve seen how drug laws force people to do drugs they’re not familiar with, to keep getting the same symptoms without penalty. People that have to take drug tests still want to get high, and the market will help them. We have no idea what the effects of smoking these chemicals, or the “plants” they’re being sprayed on, largely. But until trees are legal, there are going to be people who would prefer to use this instead of the real McCoy. This is one of the dozen insidious issues with the War on Drugs.  So let’s talk about this, 4:30 PM EST, using #DFFspice on Twitter & get more info on our #DrugFactFriday Pinboard.

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