Substance abuse, the dark side of SnowBall festival
March 15, 2013
At 6 a.m. last Monday morning, my shift in the emergency department was over. I walked out of the hospital heartsick and discouraged.
We had just gotten through the last night of the SnowBall Music Festival. Images from the night replayed in my mind. The other doctor talking to a mother that reminded me of my wife, telling her that her 17-year-old who reminded me of my daughter had tested positive for methamphetamine, cocaine, alcohol, and ecstasy.
Rushing into a room where CPR was in progress on a young man that had overdosed on the same drugs. Hearing a cell phone ring while taking a moment to catch my breath after inserting a breathing tube into a 20-year-old woman’s windpipe. It was the young woman’s phone, and the screen showed that Mom was calling.
The staff at Middle Park Medical Center in Granby had performed superbly despite being overwhelmed by a crush of young people who had been hurt by substance abuse. I was one of two doctors in the hospital Sunday night. I am writing this in hope of starting a discussion in our community about what kind of events we want here, and what kind of message we want to send about substance abuse. I want to tell about some things that I witnessed that otherwise might not be known in our community.
Here are some grim statistics from the weekend of the SnowBall festival.
At Middle Park Medical Center in Granby we saw more methamphetamine patients that weekend than we have seen in the entire time the hospital has been open. Our doctors performed toxicology screening on 30 patients over the weekend. There were more patients who were not tested because they were only mildly ill and were coherent enough to be managed without testing.
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Of the 30 drug screens done, 12 were positive for methamphetamine, 11 for cocaine, 16 for ecstasy, and 23 for marijuana. The youngest methamphetamine patient was 15. Almost every patient had a blood alcohol level far higher than the legal limit for driving. Many of the patients were positive for multiple substances. Sunday night we emergently transferred 3 critically ill patients to Denver.
These numbers do not include patients that were seen at the East Grand Community Clinic or that were treated at the festival site by the medical personnel there.
It is well known that substance abuse is an integral part of the SnowBall festival. It seems to me that by welcoming the festival to our community we are endorsing this. We are sending a message that substance abuse is normal and acceptable.
Do we really want Grand County and Winter Park to be known as a place where this sort of thing is welcome? Do we want young people to know that this is the place where they can come and get stoned and overdose with the blessings of the community? Do we want to encourage people to bring methamphetamine into our community? Do we want our own children to hear these messages?
As a doctor and as a parent, I must say no to every one of these questions.
In medicine, a central principle is that prevention is the best approach to disease. Here we have a serious disease that is harming young people in our community and we have an opportunity to prevent it. I know that we alone cannot save the world and solve our country’s substance abuse problem, but I also know that solving these kinds of problems starts at home. Here is an opportunity for us to do the right thing and make a statement.
I understand that the organizers of the SnowBall festival are looking for a permanent home for the event. I hope that they find a place somewhere else, but if they are going to stay then we must vigorously address the substance abuse that is part and parcel of the festival.
Our medical community will always take the best possible care of substance abuse patients, but medical care after the fact is not the answer. To allow a repeat of this past weekend’s debacle is simply unacceptable. I look forward to discussing this in our community.
Dr. Mark Paulsen, MD, FAWM, FAAFP, is Chief of Staff at Middle Park Medical Center, Granby