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Taking aim at raves: promoters say the all-night parties are for dancing. Opponents say they're havens for illegal drugs like ecstasy.

The rave on New Year's Eve in San Francisco attracted 10,400 dancers, and was so organized that there were ATMs on hand. It was a huge manic megaparty, and everything went fine until two people collapsed. Peter Hoang, 19, and Michael James Uveges, 23, were later pronounced dead of suspected overdoses of the club drug ecstasy.

Opponents seized on the deaths as further proof that raves are little more than excuses for drug abuse. They say ecstasy overdoses account for several fatalities every year and resulted in more than 5,500 emergency-room visits in 2001 alone.

Ravers say their parties are for dancing. Considering the thousands of rave participants, they argue, overdoses are rare. and are dwarfed by deaths attributed to alcohol--including 1,441 people aged 15 to 20 who died driving drunk in 2001.

Now the U.S. Congress may enter the debate.

SHUTTING DOWN RAVES

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) filed a bill in the last Congress called the RAVE Act (it stands for Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy), which would hold property owners and promoters liable for drug use on their premises. A property owner or club owner could face 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Biden says he hopes the bill will put many raves out of business. "Unfortunately most raves are havens for illicit drag use," he says. "Enacting the bill will help prosecute the promoters who seek to profit from exploiting and endangering young lives."

Critics of the bill say it's an attack on dance culture, written so broadly that club owners and concert promoters would be forced out of business, driving raves underground into less-safe environments.

"We think the Rave Act will harm kids," says Bill Piper, assistant director for national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that argues for treatment and other alternatives for drug offenders. "Young people see this as clearly targeting raves."

FRESH STATISTICS

The Biden bill failed to make it through the last Congress after protests from ravers and business owners. An estimated 10,000 ravers contacted their representatives and senators, and one group held a rave on the lawn of the Capitol. But the bill isn't dead. It's been inserted in a huge homeland-security measure and could be brought up again.

Opponents seeking to bolster their case in the interim point to animal studies that found ecstasy damaged or even killed brain cells involved in producing the drug's high. Scientists say it may suggest serious long-term consequences for human users.

Meanwhile, for the first time since the government began keeping records six years ago, ecstasy use dropped among teenagers in 2002, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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Article Details
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Author:Vilbig, Peter
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 21, 2003
Words:444
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