Drug abuse widespread

Gathering survey suggests 93pc indulged

Nelson Mail, 3 January 2001

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The Gathering may not condone drug use but a random survey has shown that illegal substances are extremely common at the Golden Bay dance party.

Ninety-three out of 100 people surveyed by the Nelson Mail yesterday admitted taking some type of illegal drug at the 72-hour Upper Takaka rave. At least two people were also openly selling cannabis at the party, including one man wearing a sequined sombrero hat with a sign saying "cannabis 4 U".

Only three people surveyed got their drugs at the Gathering. The rest said they bought them before arriving at the party.

Gathering organiser Murray Kingi said the event did not condone illegal drug use and openly discouraged it. He was surprised by the survey and said it misrepresented the 13,000 people at the party, which ended today.

Among partygoers, however, a different picture was painted. It appeared that most revellers would rather experience the festival on drugs.

The most popular drug among those questioned was ecstasy, which 46 people admitted taking. Ecstasy apparently makes people feel happier, less inhibited and more confident. The pill is often called the love drug because people are more affectionate on it. However, it is also considered dangerous and has led to deaths among partygoers in New Zealand and overseas. Although not addictive, it raises internal body temperature and has the potential to cause damage to the brain and immune system.

Also popular at the Gathering was LSD or acid, the hallucinogen that increases sensory perception. Other drugs used were cannabis, speed, magic mushrooms and cactus extracts. There were rumours that drugs were easy to buy at the event. Cannabis was common and readily available but harder drugs appeared difficult to get.

Inquiries by Nelson Mail reporters about two alleged hard-drug dealers revealed nothing. Both men were surprised by our inquiries. One said he had never sold drugs and the other said he hadn't been selling ecstasy.

Finding cannabis was a different story however, with at least two men openly selling it. The man in the sombrero hat, and suit and tie, was walking around the campsite and food stalls holding up bags of cannabis for sale. The man said he had sold 10 $40 bags of the locally-grown product in five minutes on New Year's Eve and $1600 worth in one day yesterday. "I'm just providing a service, a good public service. I get thanked for it all the time," he said yesterday while patrolling the dance zones.

The drug users hailed from many different backgrounds and were a variety of ages. Many were professionals, including teachers, public servants and lawyers, while others were students and unemployed people. They ranged in age from teenagers to adults in their 50s.

Most said they used drugs to enhance their senses and increase their enjoyment of the Gathering's music, special effects and atmosphere. Some said they used drugs in lieu of alcohol, which was banned at the festival.

Mr Kingi said that if any of the event's 150 security officers caught anyone selling or using drugs they would be harshly dealt with. As far as he knew no one had been caught. He said it was sad that so many people needed illegal drugs to enjoy the Gathering. "There are a lot of people who come to the Gathering and don't take drugs and still have a good time."

The seven people surveyed who had not taken any illegal substances said it didn't bother them that others around them were using drugs, as it was their choice.

Mr Kingi said medical and counselling staff were on hand to care for anyone who had a bad trip, as apparently happened to at least three people. Police were not a permanent presence at the event, although they did attend briefly on New Year's Eve, and were called in once to help evict a troublesome reveller. Apart from that, the Gathering was an almost trouble-free event.



Caption: Photo MARIAM EL ORFI IT'S IN THE BAG: A drug dealer openly sells cannabis during the Gathering

Mariam El Orfi, Nelson Mail, 3 January 2001

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