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Every time the neon-clad masses descend upon Miami for Ultra Music Festival, rumors of injuries, overdoses, and even deaths swirl around the city.
Ever wonder how much of it is true? We did, so we decided to find out. After three weeks of repeatedly requesting public records, we've got some answers — though not nearly enough to paint a full picture of what goes down during the nation's biggest electronic music party.
After Riptide broke the news last month that a 20-year-old from New Jersey named Anthony Cassano was likely the first partygoer to die of a drug overdose at Ultra, we wondered how many more had gotten sick or injured at the festival. So we contacted the City of Miami's Department of Fire Rescue at the end of March to request reports on everyone attended to by paramedics at Ultra, which took place over two weekends, March 15-17 and 22-24.
Nearly two weeks later, this is all the info we've gotten:
• Over the course of Ultra's two weekends, City of Miami paramedics responded to 44 calls at Bayfront Park.
• In 24 of those cases, someone was taken to the hospital.
Unless Miami Fire Rescue responds to our requests for more-detailed information, however, we have no idea how many of those 24 hospitalizations were overdoses.
At least a few were related to drugs, in all likelihood. Shortly after Ultra ended — before Riptide reported on Cassano's death — a tipster sent us an email describing the emergency room at Jackson Memorial on the last day of the festival. "There were three kids in the ER on Sunday evening," the tipster wrote. "I know one died and the other two were in very bad shape."
An Ultra spokesman did not respond to our request for comment for this article.
Police arrested 167 people at Ultra this year, primarily for narcotics and gatecrashing. (Last year, there were 78 arrests during the three-day event, 45 of them for narcotics. More than 60 people were injured last year, many from suspected drug overdoses, but no one died.)
City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has criticized the festival for the prevalence of narcotics and even called for the festival to drop its second weekend. A 2012 University of Miami study, meanwhile, found that three previously healthy men in their 20s suffered brain hemorrhages from taking MDMA, or "Molly," last year.
The debate over drug abuse at Ultra isn't going to be settled any time soon. But more public records sure would help.