Two major New England venues have canceled concerts featuring electronic music amid growing concerns about the club drug Molly, a potent form of MDMA suspected in a string of recent overdoses at shows and music festivals.
The cancellations mark the latest fallout from three recent fatal drug overdoses, which have prompted an aggressive police investigation and warnings from college officials and public health agencies.
On Aug. 28, a New Hampshire college student, 19-year-old Brittany Flannigan, died from a suspected overdose of Molly at the House of Blues nightclub in Boston, and two other concertgoers were hospitalized.
Last weekend, two deaths at a music festival in New York City also appeared to involve the drug, which police say is popular at dance clubs and rave concerts. One of the victims was Olivia Rotondo, a student at the University of New Hampshire.
The spate of overdoses has raised concerns that what is being sold as Molly is actually a potentially lethal combination of the drug ecstasy and other substances, such as amphetamines, PCP, or cocaine. Users have no way of knowing what they are actually taking, health officials said.
“The common understanding is that Molly is MDMA, but who knows what it really is?” said Matthew Mostofi, assistant chief of emergency medicine at Tufts Medical Center.
On Thursday, Six Flags New England, an amusement park near Springfield, announced that an “Electric Adventure” concert slated for Sept. 28 had been postponed “in light of recent events,” and the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H., canceled a rave concert called the Barstool Blackout Tour.
Ted Gatsas, the mayor of Manchester, said arena officials decided to cancel the show over safety concerns because of the overdoses.
“Based on the issues that have come forward, they decided it was best,” he said. “And I thanked them. It’s a very potent drug, and we need to find out a whole lot more about it.”
In a statement, the arena cited the recent overdoses and said the cancellation should “in no way reflect safety concerns we specifically have with the Barstool Blackout Tour.”
In Boston, police said they would have a heightened number of uniformed and undercover officers at this weekend’s Boston Calling music festival at City Hall Plaza.
And a Quincy nightclub that has been plagued by a dozen drug overdoses since Memorial Day also agreed to cancel an upcoming concert, under pressure from police. Police have made eight arrests in connection to Molly use at The Ocean Club, a popular spot in Marina Bay.
Club officials, who could not be reached for comment, have also agreed to develop a safety plan for future events, police said.
Mostofi said he had seen a recent increase in overdoses involving teenagers and young adults. Most overdoses involved the use of Molly in combination with marijuana, cocaine, or other drugs, he said.
“We’ve always seen these, but the last week or two there has been an increase,” he said, citing four overdoses since last Saturday.
MDMA can cause increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and extreme dehydration, specialists say, especially when combined with alcohol in a hot, crowded dance club.
The drug is particularly popular among college students, who are drawn to the its quick, euphoric high and relatively low cost. Billed as a purer form of ecstasy, Molly has gained a reputation as safe, an image college officials are now working to undermine.
“This is something drug dealers make,” said Peter DiDomenica, a lieutenant detective with the Boston University Police. “It’s Russian roulette.”
In a message sent to students Tuesday, the University of New Hampshire warned of Molly’s risks.
“Because it is an uncontrolled substance, there is no consistency in what it actually contains,” wrote Mark Rubinstein, the university’s vice president of student and academic services. “You never know exactly what you’re ingesting and that is particularly dangerous if it is then combined with other drugs or alcohol.”
“This is serious,” he added. “Two New Hampshire college students have died in the last week. Please act responsibly and look out for each other.”
Bill Carlo, who directs the Addiction Counselor Education Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said he encounters few students who are concerned they may be addicted to ecstasy or Molly, saying the drug is not “physically addicting” like other illicit substances.
“It has a low-abuse profile,” he said. “And it’s a drug that until very recently had a low profile.”
Like others, he speculated that the recent spate of overdoses is connected to a tainted batch of the drug.
“It’s not a drug that is made in a controlled way,” he said. “It’s a drug that is made by people who aren’t chemists.”