Boston Police said Thursday that a dangerously pure form of the drug ecstasy, known as Molly, appeared to be a factor in the mass illnesses the night before at TD Garden, where more than 80 young people attending an electronic dance music concert became sick, with nearly half treated at local hospitals.
"The word I'm getting from our drug people, they believe that it was a lot of voluntary ingestion of Molly," said Boston Police spokesman Sergeant Michael McCarthy.
He said that while he did not know what was in their systems, some of the young people were showing signs of Molly overdose, which include racing pulse, chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting. Alcohol also was a factor in some of the illnesses, police said.
TD Garden was cited Thursday for having intoxicated minors at the concert by the Swedish DJ Avicii. Mayor Martin J. Walsh called the incidents "disturbing and concerning.''
Before the concert began, said McCarthy, police had drug units in the area, and arrested five people for selling drugs, including Molly, to concert-goers.
"We're aware that this type of event can draw a crowd where drugs and alcohol seem to be prevalent," said McCarthy.
A police report attached to the citation describes "numerous young patrons... in an intoxicated state to the point of being incoherent." More than 50 people, most between the ages of 16 and 25, were treated on scene, and 36 others were taken to area hospitals with minor symptoms.
Walsh vowed to meet with Garden officials to review the events that led up to what officials termed a "Level Two Mass Casualty Incident."
"We will be meeting with the TD Garden and public safety officials to review the series of events last night and examine any protocol in place for dealing with similar incidents in the future. I take this very seriously, and I know that all of the parties involved do also," said Walsh in a statement.
Last August, 19-year-old Brittany Flannigan of Derry, N.H., died of an apparent Molly overdose at an electronic dance music, or EDM, concert at the House of Blues in Boston, one in a string of several overdoses that sparked panic about the rising popularity of Molly as the drug of choice at techno or electro music events.
In the wake of Flannigan's death, according to city officials, House of Blues briefly closed its doors, was cited by police, and created an EDM concert security plan that included providing a cool room, water, first aid and drug safety education materials.
The police report attached to the Garden citation says the event manager at the Garden told police that management would review their electronic dance music event entry procedures. A Garden spokeswoman said the Garden had implemented precautions specifically for the Avicii show that included restricted alcohol sales, additional security and cooling off areas for guests.
"We take this incident very seriously and our thoughts are with the affected guests and their families," said spokeswoman Tricia McCorkle in a statement. "We continued our proactive policy to identify impaired guests, bring them to first aid for medical evaluation and transport when necessary. By following our policy, half of the affected guests were identified prior to entering the arena and were immediately treated."
Concertgoers described a crowded, hot venue with smoke machines, lasers, and strobes, an event attended largely by people in their teens and early 20s. The evening had "great vibes," but some revelers partied too hard.
"There were kids being attended to by a cop or a paramedic against the walls of the TD Garden. It was like, strung along the whole way as you're walking in, one kid here, one kid there," said 23-year-old Michael Marra of Boston, who said he attended the show with friends. "It was pretty nuts, to the point where when you got to where you were supposed to go, it felt like an accomplishment."
Marra said he hadn't seen any drug use or underage drinking, but that it seemed like many people had begun drinking or taking drugs before arriving at the Garden — an observation backed up by the police report, which said "many of the patrons had consumed intoxicants off-site and became ill inside."
The majority of medical issues were reported between about 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., said Ron Quaranto, Chief Operating Officer of Cataldo Ambulance Service, Inc., which contracts with the Garden. Quaranto said the majority of people seemed to have consumed alcohol, and that he did not see any symptoms of Molly overdose. He said heat and dehydration likely also played a part. McCorkle said water was available for free in various locations around the Garden, and that bottled water cost $4.25.
The city's Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Licensing said the Garden has been cited for violations in the past, but not more than other such establishments. Further information about previous citations was not immediately available.
Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said at around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, the fire department was called to the Garden after reports came in of people jumping into the water from the nearby North Washington Street bridge. The fire department returned to the area when the concert ended to deter anyone from jumping; no one was found in the water at any point during the night, said MacDonald.
A spokeswoman for Boston EMS said no one was available to comment.
On Twitter early Thursday morning, Avicii, whose real name is Tim Bergling, wrote:
Just hearing the awful news abt tonight. Its a terrible thing, I rly hope everyone is ok! My thoughts go to those affected & their families.— Tim Bergling (@Avicii) June 26, 2014
The police report describes Avicii as an artist whose concerts "have had a history, nationwide, of incidents requiring medical treatment for intoxicated young patrons."
A spokeswoman for Live Nation, which promoted the show, disputed that characterization in a statement.
"There is no track record of any issues with widespread intoxication and we have never had to cancel any performance due to reckless behavior involving drugs or alcohol," said spokeswoman Jacqueline Peterson. "Anything reported to the contrary is simply false."
At an Avicii concert in May in Toronto, 29 people were taken to the hospital for illnesses related to drugs and alcohol, the Toronto Star reported.
This month, at a three-night music festival attended by 400,000 in Las Vegas at which Avicii was one of many performers, two concertgoers died, 25 were taken to the hospitals, and nearly 800 were treated for minor medical issues, according to the Associated Press.