Pubdate: Sat, 9 Nov 2000
Source: Miami New Times (FL)
Copyright: 2000 New Times, Inc.
Contact:  PO Box 011591, Miami, FL 33101-1591
Author: Brett Sokol
Cited: Miami Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community
Third Annual Harm Reduction Conference
Bookmark: For rave items:


Scare Tactics, Uniformed Soldiers, Clueless Social Workers, And A Compliant 
Miami Herald

A camouflage-clad National Guardmember pokes his head into Kulchur's car 
window. "Are you here for the special event?" he asks gruffly. I'm here for 
the drug-free rave apparently is the correct password. The guardsman 
motions to drive on to a parking spot past his hulking military truck 
outside Coconut Grove's Peacock Park. There a half-dozen tents and a DJ 
booth have been erected under the auspices of the Miami Coalition for a 
Safe and Drug-Free Community, which hopes to "unmask the risks and 
realities of the rave scene." The Miami Coalition has been casting about 
for a galvanizing issue; it's hard to demand zero tolerance in an era in 
which both the sitting president and at least one major presidential 
candidate have admitted to experimenting with drugs without irrevocably 
destroying their lives. Still, with the media working itself into a frenzy 
over raves, the group finally seems to have found a sure thing.

And so coalition staffers were hoping for hundreds of concerned parents to 
arrive with their children in tow. The actual turnout on the evening of 
October 28, however, ends up being little more than a handful of moms and a 
dozen teenagers bused over from their drug-rehab center. The teens stand 
around looking bored, occasionally springing to life when a TV camera 
approaches. A DJ spins a set of bubbly breaks. Stacks of literature sit 
untouched next to a large boxful of Twizzlers licorice and Skittles 
cryptically marked RAVE CANDY.

Inside one tent, which features the federal Drug Enforcement Administration 
insignia on its flap, the Miami Coalition's director of communications, 
Bernie Diaz, remains unruffled by the sparse audience. Since the National 
Guard is used as part of the government's anti-drug strategy in schools, 
and as Guardmembers have finished the grunt work of setting up these tents, 
why not educate them?

As one guardsman listens intently, Diaz launches into performance mode, 
motioning to a table strewn with glossy rave-party flyers and what he terms 
"dangerous" rave paraphernalia: pacifiers, Charm's Blow Pops, and Vicks 
VapoRub. He's in the middle of vividly relating how Ecstasy-addled ravers 
are transfixed by the "glassy effects" of glow sticks when the guardsman 
interrupts, pointing to a glovelike ball-studded object on the table: 
"What's with the brass knuckles?"

"Ahh," Diaz purrs with a knowing smile. "This is a massager," he explains, 
rolling the suspect device back and forth on the soldier's arm. "It 
heightens the sensual effects of Ecstasy. Total strangers massage each 
other, which leads to sexual contact." He pauses for effect and adds, 
"They'll do anything with anybody!"

Diaz moves on to a bottle of Robitussin, describing how thousands of kids 
are now chugging entire bottles of cough syrup when they're short the $25 
needed for a hit of Ecstasy. "It has MDA in it," he says -- falsely -- as a 
woman looks on with a horrified expression. He taps the bottle's label: 
"See, cherry flavor. It tastes like candy. They like that."

And just where is Diaz getting this insider information on the hordes of 
Robitussin-swilling ravers? "Oh, we've done studies; there's lots of 
anecdotal evidence," he answers confidently. "We've got an epidemiologist 
right outside you can talk to." As Diaz's eyes begin burning with the light 
of a true believer, Kulchur carefully backs out of the tent and heads for 
the rave candy.

Scare tactics, uniformed soldiers, clueless social workers -- hasn't 
anything changed since the failed "Just Say No" drug-policy tactics of the 
Eighties? Actually times have changed, just not in Miami. That was the 
message at the Third Annual Harm Reduction Conference as 1100 physicians, 
health professionals, teachers, scientists, and community activists from 
around the nation gathered at downtown Miami's Wyndham Hotel from October 
22 to October 25.

Their shared philosophy is a pragmatic rejection of what conference 
organizers term the "prohibitionist-abstentionist" model: We may not like 
the idea of teens (or even premarital couples) having sex, but instead of 
simply preaching abstention, we're also going to make condoms available. We 
may not approve of people shooting heroin, but rather than let the use of 
dirty needles continue to spread AIDS, we're going to set up clean-needle 
exchange programs.

Back in the Nancy Reagan days, such a conference would have been 
unthinkable. Prominent members of the medical and scientific establishment 
were too intimidated by the threat of losing grant money, or of being 
publicly stigmatized, to challenge the official orthodoxy of the drug war. 
No more.

The conference's four days featured freewheeling and open discussion of a 
number of responses to both drug abuse and the AIDS epidemic. Drawing 
special attention were the members present from Dancesafe, a self-described 
"nonprofit harm-reduction organization promoting health and safety within 
the rave and nightclub community," whose headquarters are in Oakland, 

One of Dancesafe's main activities has been the onsite testing of Ecstasy 
at raves around the nation. By using a chemical reagent, Dancesafe members 
can quickly determine if the pills in question truly contain MDMA (actual 
Ecstasy) or are fakes filled with potentially lethal (and more easily 
obtainable) adulterants such as DXM or PMA. Fake Ecstasy is rapidly 
spreading as dealers attempt to cash in on the real drug's popularity; 
indeed toxicology reports confirm that most of the fatalities attributed to 
Ecstasy overdoses were in fact the result of PMA (a legal stimulant that 
can cause seizures or cardiac arrest in high doses) or DXM (found in cough 
suppressants and a potential cause of heat stroke in high doses).

Regardless of what Dancesafe members discover from their testing, members 
of the group's thirteen nationwide chapters do not seize pills. They say 
doing so would discourage people from ever having the drugs tested. Their 
immediate goal is to prevent more PMA- or DXM-related deaths, not to pass 
judgment. A controversial approach? To some. But then that's the whole 
point of the Harm Reduction Conference: to air these matters and promote 

One would think the conference's controversial nature would make it ripe 
for coverage in the Miami Herald. Or at least a mention. But despite 
repeated calls and faxes to the paper from conference organizers, and 
despite the fact that it was held literally next door to the Herald's 
offices, the newspaper did not write one word about the event.

Not that everyone at the Herald chose to ignore the Harm Reduction 
Conference. As the conference's second day began on October 23, that 
morning's Herald featured a dramatic half-page Miami Coalition 
advertisement on page five of the "Metro" section. A boldface headline took 
a not-so-subtle jab at Dancesafe, declaring, "To Dance Safe Dance 
Drug-Free." The ad went on to specifically attack the conference: "Miami 
reminds those who claim to reduce harm while promoting drug use that they 
send complex, confusing, and erroneous message [sic]." Beneath an ominous 
"Welcome to Miami, we'll be watching out for you" was an anti-rave jeremiad 
that warned, "Our children are being lured into a dangerous and deceptive 
late-night culture of "techno' music and laser lights at "Raves....' 
Attending or supporting these activities is like playing Russian roulette." 
It was signed by figures such as Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, Miami Beach 
Police Chief Richard Barreto, Florida Office of Drug Control director James 
McDonough, Barry University president Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, and 
University of Miami president Edward T. Foote II. (A number of individuals 
from UM's department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, as well as its 
school of medicine, chose to attend the conference as featured speakers.)

The advertisement ended with a plug for the Miami Coalition's upcoming 
"mock rave" on October 28. And there at the bottom was the Miami Herald-El 
Nuevo Herald logo, an acknowledgement, says Bernie Diaz, of the Herald's 
cosponsorship of the event and its decision to partially donate the ad space.

Just as eyebrow-raising, on October 29 the Herald would find room to cover 
this "mock rave," citing Diaz's dubious assertions on Ecstasy without 
comment while conveniently omitting any mention of the paper's 
cosponsorship of the event or parent company Knight Ridder's ongoing 
funding of the Miami Coalition.

The article's author, Eunice Ponce, and her editor apparently don't read 
their own newspaper. Both told Kulchur they were unaware of the Miami 
Coalition ad and the Herald's cosponsorship of the "mock rave," as well as 
the Harm Reduction Conference's very existence. Herald health writer 
Christine Morris says she did speak with a conference organizer but chose 
not to write about it. "There was a lot going on [that week]; there are a 
lot of conferences," she reports. "It's a question of my time."

It remains unclear, then, if the Herald's use as a propaganda tool for 
Miami's drug warriors is deliberate or borne of editorial ignorance. Either 
answer is disturbing.

"It's important to address the political ramifications of this hysteria," 
22-year-old Dancesafe community organizer Theo Rosenfeld told the crowd 
sitting around him at a conference workshop. Holding the Miami Coalition's 
Herald ad aloft, he continued, "On a subtle level, condemning media such as 
this shuts down communication. The more the media demonizes us, the less 
we're going to be able to save lives." Not that he's feeling deterred in 
the slightest. As soon as the conference ended, he was off to the Midwest 
to help set up a new Dancesafe chapter. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake