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Potentially deadly drug abuse worsening at concerts

UPDATED: Mon., July 1, 2013, 8:16 p.m.

Organizers of the electronic music festival Paradiso promised the event last weekend at the Gorge Amphitheatre would be an “electronic paradise.” Instead, one person died and dozens were hospitalized after taking a cocktail of drugs.

Preliminary reports indicate 21-year-old Patrick D. Witkowski, from Des Moines, Wash., died when he apparently overdosed on a variety of dangerous drugs, Chelan County Coroner Wayne Harris said. Harris said medical examiners have not completed the autopsy and don’t yet know what was in Witkowski’s system.

Quincy Valley Medical Center emergency room doctors treated 123 patients over the weekend, 72 of whom were from the concert, hospital spokeswoman Michelle Wurl said. At least 40 to 50 people had medical problems related to drugs and alcohol. Seven of the most severely ill patients were transported to Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee. Most of the patients were between 18 and 25 years old, Wurl said.

More than 25,000 people attended the sold-out, two-day concert.

Original reports indicated the patients had overdosed on Molly, a designer form of ecstasy that’s advertised as a pure form of MDMA. But the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, which partnered with co-producers Live Nation and USC Events to provide security at the concert, isn’t so sure.

“We have no way to know if it was one single drug,” spokesman Kyle Foreman said. “It could have been any number of things.”

Sheriff’s deputies booked 23 people into jail over the weekend on charges of possession or delivery of controlled substances, trespassing, assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, Foreman said. But investigators don’t know where the drugs came from or what they were, he said.

Hospital reports indicate what people thought was Molly may actually have been a dangerous cocktail of methamphetamines, cocaine and LSD, Wurl said.

Sgt. Brent Austin with Spokane police’s Special Investigative Unit said Molly is typically seen at raves.

It’s easy for young people to get and they become addicted to the euphoric high the drugs produce, particularly when cut with heroine and methamphetamines, Austin said.

Richard Miles, a clinical supervisor at Daybreak Youth Services teen drug and alcohol treatment, said places like Paradiso are targets for “drug dealing entrepreneurs,” who can sell whatever they want under whatever name they want.

“Kids will take almost anything that’s available to them,” Miles said. “If it’s available on the streets then they’re going to take it.”

Though Molly isn’t as addictive as methamphetamine or other addictive drugs, it’s often not the pure form of MDMA drug dealers say it is.

“It’s dangerous,” Miles said. “You buy anything on the streets and expect it’s not necessarily going to be pure anything.”

In recent years, the number of severe incidents at the Gorge has increased, Wurl said. Where a few years ago doctors were treating dehydration and heat stroke, this summer they’re handling more serious cases. This summer, patients from Paradiso, KUBE 93 Summer Jam and Sasquatch! Music Festival have exhibited signs of intoxication and severe drug use, Wurl said.

“We seem to be seeing a lot more of these intense overdoses,” she said.

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