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House of Blues defends response to overdoses

Providing new details about three drug overdoses at a nightclub last week, House of Blues employees defended the club’s security policies during a Boston City Hall licensing hearing Wednesday, while police said they are seeking to determine the source of the drug that led to the death of one club patron.

In testimony before the head of the city’s Licensing Board, House of Blues employees described a harrowing scene of sudden collapses and injuries on the night of Aug. 27. One woman had fallen down on the dance floor, but told security she was fine. She wanted to go back to the concert, and refused medical treatment.

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But when she tried to walk away, her body suddenly went stiff.

A short time later, 19-year-old Brittany Flannigan, was found “convulsing on her feet,” a security employee said.

Her older sister by her side, Flannigan was taken to a stairwell, where she lay down. But the convulsions wouldn’t stop.

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“We just tried to stay with her until the ambulance came,” said William Farago, a security staffer who had been at the scene.

Flannigan was later pronounced dead from an suspected overdose of “Molly,” a potent form of the drug ecstasy. Two others at the concert were also treated for apparent overdoses.

Near the end of the show, a man in his early 20s was found bleeding from his head, unaware how he hurt himself.

“He seemed very disoriented,” Farago said. “He kept saying ‘Am I injured? Am I injured?’ ”

Police said that investigators have determined that the drugs taken by the House of Blues patrons — a pure form of MDMA commonly called Molly — were purchased outside Boston, and that those who distributed the drugs could face charges in connection to the fatal overdose.

“Our drug unit has a very active investigation” into the source of the drugs, said Boston police Superintendent William Evans.

The rash of overdoses — including two Saturday at a Boston concert — has spurred warnings from police and public health officials, who say the drug is especially risky when chased with alcohol.

“There could be fatal consequences,” Evans said, adding that officers will be working with clubs across the city to recognize the “telltale signs” of potential overdoses.

At Wednesday’s hearing, House of Blues employees defended the club’s response to the overdose, and said their security has long been strict.

“We get called ‘House of Rules’ because our searches are pretty extensive,” said Declan Mehigan, who manages the club. Security staff pat down concertgoers and search their bags as they enter, and check bathrooms every 10 minutes.

On the night of the overdoses, the club turned away more than 130 people because they appeared to be under the influence, they said.

Licensing officials took no immediate action, but told club representatives they would notify them of any sanctions or steps they are required to take. Club employees said they were cooperating with police and had turned over surveillance video to investigators.

Dennis Quilty, a lawyer for House of Blues, said security measures can only do so much to keep drugs out of clubs.

“It’s very difficult to determine whether someone has a tiny pill or packet of powder on their person,” he said. “We’re as vigilant as can be, but it’s very difficult to stop.”

In Quincy, police said they have recently made eight arrests in connection to Molly use at Ocean Club at Marina Bay, where there have been a dozen overdoses since Memorial Day.

Paul Keenan, the Quincy police chief, said undercover officers stopped drug deals inside the club and in the parking lot. Eight people have been charged with possession or distribution of drugs, and police are seeking complaints against three more.

At Boston Medical Center on Wednesday, an annual vigil was held for those who have died from substance abuse.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that substance abuse is all too often a silent killer,” said Barbara Ferrer, who directs the Boston Public Health Commission. “Addiction has claimed too many lives in Boston, and we need to support those that struggle with these issues so that they’re not left to fight alone.”

Ferrer said officials will be renewing efforts to educate club workers and college students about the risks associated with these drugs. They plan to meet with employees at popular venues to discuss the signs of drug use and provide tips about reducing overdose risks.

Globe correspondent Jessica Bartlett contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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