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Recreational Research: Analyzing "Designer Drugs" at Miami's Premier Electronic Music Festival

NCJ Number
Forensics Dated: October 2015 Pages: 10-11
Jim Dawson
Date Published
October 2015
2 pages

Using saliva, urine, and blood samples from volunteers attending Miami's Ultra Music Festival in 2014, this study identified the parent drug in blood samples and correlated that drug with metabolites that are produced as the drug is being broken down inside the body, which can lead to faster and more accurate drug screening techniques that might eventually be used by police to identify impaired drivers during traffic stops and provide first responders with life-saving information in the event of a drug overdose.


An electronic dance music festival was selected as a site for this research because such festivals have a long-standing reputation for attracting youth who use designer drugs. Prospective volunteers were asked if they wanted to help science, and offered an enticement of bottled water, candy, and a $20 gift card for Dunkin Donuts. Just over 400 individuals provided samples for this study. The lack of a database on designer drugs and their metabolites has made it difficult for emergency room personnel and forensic investigators to identify what an individual has consumed. Sampling at electronic dance music festivals provides possibly the only ethical way to obtain comprehensive samples that reveal how the human body processes these novel and potentially dangerous designer drugs. The project described in this article has built a library of information about designer drugs that links parent drugs to metabolites. Through publications and presentations, it is being made available to the medical and forensic toxicology communities. Of the 104 urine samples taken, just over 70 participants showed metabolites from an array of drugs, including cocaine and several designer drugs, most notably, alpha-PVP, commonly known as "Flakka," and dimethylone, methylone, ethylone, and butylone (sold as "Molly). 1 figure