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2015 Ultra Music Festival and PIER21: University of Miami Provides Alternative MEGAbash for Students in Recovery

For many, the month of March brings to mind college basketball. For others, March means spring break trips and sunny beaches. In Miami, the month of March forces local residents to think of EDM. For the last 16 years, downtown Miami has played host to Ultra Music festival. With line-ups featuring many of the finest electronic musical artists from around the world, Ultra draws crowds in the hundreds of thousands. Electronic Dance Music is not just a genre; it’s a culture. Loud music, bright colors, and late nights are the norm. All this, in conjunction with the misuse of designer drugs, makes for a community of partygoers with the capacity to enrapture an entire city. For local young people in recovery from a substance use disorder, this occupation can prove to be stressful.

The wild weekend has brought exposure and positive economic benefits to the city, and for the adults in South Florida and on college campuses across the country, Miami has become the place to be in March. For this reason, the city has voted against banning the festival after years of public safety concerns and incidents. Most recently, a security guard was trampled and suffered a brain hemorrhage as the result of a crowd breaking down a chain-link fence. The approval to host Ultra 2015 was made on the condition that organizers introduce facilities and policies for addressing security, drug usage and lewd behavior by attendees.

Many wonder about the prevalence of drugs during the week, and the desire to study the EDM community and Ultra attendees attracted researchers from the Center for Forensic Science Research & Education. A federally funded study in 2014 discovered that if you ask 100 audience members to submit a urine sample in exchange for a $20 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card, 80 just might test positive for drugs.

If you are a college student at the University of Miami, it is widely accepted that attendance at Ultra, or at the very least, nights downtown during the festival, are a part of being a Hurricane. This presents a problem to those students who are in recovery from a substance use disorder and mental health concerns. It is already difficult enough to navigate what many consider to be an “abstinence-hostile” environment, in a college campus. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that nearly a quarter of all college students meet the criteria for a substance use disorder, and almost 32% of all college students binge drink.

Add the additional pressure of an atmosphere where an estimated 58 to 80% of all Ultra Music Festival attendees are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and you have an environment that presents a great threat to a recovering individual’s health and wellness.

Because of this fact, the University of Miami has taken steps to meet these students where they’re at and provide them with recovery friendly environment during this coming weekend’s events. MEGAbash is an event providing a safe and fun environment for students to enjoy the atmosphere one would get at an EDM show downtown, while maintaining a lifestyle that promotes health and wellness. MEGAbash is hosted by PIER 21, an on-campus program focusing on alcohol and other drug use, misuse, and dependency. Events like this are just another example of colleges taking progressive steps towards building recovery-ready campuses. While there are many obstacles to overcome as a young person in recovery on a college campus, support structures are being built to provide a peer-supportive environment that promotes recovery and wellness. As the collegiate recovery movement continues to grow, activities like MEGAbash will become the norm. A young person in recovery can enroll at the University of Miami knowing that every March, when Ultra comes to town, their campus will support their recovery. In doing this, schools attract students in recovery, and empower them with a normative collegiate experience. No longer will binge drinking and drug use on college campuses serve as an impediment to returning to school. Rather, young people in recovery know that they are entitled to maximizing their full potential, and as such, will receive the support they deserve when returning to school.

For more information on the PIER 21 Program at the University of Miami, see below:

PIER 21 is a comprehensive Prevention, Intervention, Education, and Referral program focusing on alcohol and other drug use, misuse, and dependency. By working in partnership with all members of the campus community, we strive to:

  • Promote healthy lifestyles, as well as personal and social responsibility, by providing and/or supporting programs, training, service, and alternative activities for students;
  • Educate students about the negative consequences of high-risk use of alcohol and other drugs;
  • Increase awareness and commitment within the University community to create an environment in which a change in attitudes, behaviors, and use of substances is possible and participation in high-risk behaviors is reduced.



Michael Clinch
Clinical Outreach Coordinator

Life of Purpose Treatment
3848 FAU Boulevard, Suite 100
Boca Raton, FL 33431
Admissions: 1.888.PURPOSE

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