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"What happened with Brittney Chambers is a fine example of the fact that we have got to expand our efforts to get ahold of the Ecstasy phenomenon," says Dennis Follett, a public-information officer with the Denver field office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, one of 22 regional offices nationwide. "We know that the drug is spreading from these club and rave circles into a more recreational drug, but the fact remains that these events, to our experience, provide an environment for a high level of drug activity," Follett says. "And we simply cannot allow that to continue."
Drugs aren't the only reason law-enforcement officials don't like raves. The parties tax resources. They're weird and unwieldy. They pop up without notice and attract unsavory elements. And this past year, a handful of poorly planned but well-publicized events didn't do anything to improve the image of raves. Last March, Liquid Soul Productions -- then affiliated with coloradorave.com, a Web site that's a main source of local event information -- threw a rave in the gymnasium of Colorado Springs's Rampart High School and sullied not only the space, but also that city's feelings toward rave promoters; a month later, a farmland rave in Elbert County drained the sheriff's overtime budget when unprepared deputies were suddenly required to direct traffic and help addled teens; and in July, a teenage mother from Wyoming disappeared after attending a rave in Vail.
But the biggest blow to raves came this past August, when local, national and international law-enforcement officials and representatives of narcotics agencies, including two agents from the DEA's Denver field office, converged on Washington, D.C., for the DEA's National Ecstasy & Club Drugs Conference. Speaker after speaker - among them Richard Fiano, DEA chief of operations, and then-drug czar General Barry McCaffrey -- described a startling increase in the nationwide consumption of MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, which is now on the DEA's list of dangerous drugs alongside such standbys as heroin and cocaine. According to Fiano, Ecstasy use was up 56 percent among twelfth-graders; in 1999, 1.5 million people between the ages of 18 and 25 had tried the drug.
"The DEA has really isolated Ecstasy as public enemy number one," says Campbell. "Still, all of the evidence suggests that Ecstasy deaths are really uncommon. Fewer than meth, cocaine -- even alcohol. There's this Ecstasy hysteria building up, and so much of it is focused on raves. It's disproportionate to what's actually happening. Every single kid in high school knows what Ecstasy is, and not that many of them have anything to do with raves."
But at the DEA conference, Ecstasy's use was inextricably linked to raves. "All-night dance parties" -- the mass media's preferred description of raves -- have become the primary outlet for widespread distribution and consumption of the drug, agency officials said. In an instructional video, the DEA did its best to simulate a rave environment: Lights flashed in time with an amphetamine-fueled beat while a stern voice described the dangers of MDMA and its chemical kin. "Taking club drugs," the narrator cautioned, was "dancing with darkness."
By the end of the conference, the DEA had made its position very clear: A unified attack on Ecstasy use in the U.S. was not only necessary, it was to be considered among the country's highest priorities. Nationwide, the connection between raves and drugs had already prompted some legislation; as early as 1997, cities such as Gainesville and Orlando in Florida, Riverside, California, and Charlotte, North Carolina, had begun drafting anti-rave laws aimed at stopping all-night parties and the drug activity that accompanied them. The Denver DEA office had initiated its own rave awareness campaign a year before the conference; according to Tom Ward, assistant special agent in charge, by the middle of 1999 his office had come to regard raves as the primary source of personal Ecstasy use and had helped to alert other state agencies to the dangers.
"Because of their role in the distribution and use of certain drugs," Ward says, "local law enforcement is very interested in monitoring raves. In the Denver metro area -- I'm talking about the six surrounding counties -- there is a high police presence, and they are watching out for these types of events, in part because of our ongoing efforts to educate them on the growing issue of club drugs."
Not surprisingly, around this same time, it got pretty hard to throw a good party in metro Denver.
"It is nearly impossible to hold an event in the city these days," says Rushing, "The process of finding an unlicensed venue and bringing it up to code is exhaustive. After you figured out zoning, licensing, permits, police, fire department, building inspections, insurance, it would take a year to turn a warehouse into a place where you could hold a party. Unless you own your own club, your only option right now is to rent different venues and shut down at 2 a.m."
"Denver simply does not want them to happen," says Heath. "Raves have gotten such a bad name that even if you are a professional company putting on professional events, they look for any little loophole to shut you down or prevent you from even planning an event."