Best Practices When Dealing with Intoxicants

Note from Author: To make things a little easier, I’ve broken up my notes on harm reduction into three tiers. The first tier is simple, focused on attendees, and might be suitable to be added to messaging sent out to attendees. The second tier is the one that may have the most editing/back & forth, as this will be the harm reduction information that I’d like DMs and other monitors to have, to designate them as DMs at the event. The 3rd tier is producer-focused, trying to encapsulate all of the headaches I’ve seen people whose names are on the dotted line have had to deal with. Which may be less crucial to our discussion, but putting out best case practices for event production in addition to DMing could help us signal boost.

First Tier – Attendee/Participant

Attendees are generally the last people you want engaging in any type of harm reduction, as it’s likely they’ll be unwilling or able to help you in an emergency. Attendees are considered civilians by most crisis escalation teams and if the environment is alcohol or substance friendly, their accounts may need to be verified after the fact. This isn’t to say they’re not the most important part of your event, as they of course are. But more to remind that these individuals would not be counted on to perform emergency services by the authorities, so you shouldn’t either.

  • Hydration is an individual responsibility, so it’s important to note where water is available and plan ahead. No one wants to break up a scene because someone is sweating and bound such that they can’t attend to their water needs.
  • In some states, it is illegal for a patron of an establishment that serves alcoholic drinks to be denied a free cup of water. This may not be the case in your locale, and depending on the relationship between the event and the venue. If it’s BYOB, a private/non-ticketed event, or if the bar is set up in some other way, they may not be required by law to provide you with water. However, badgering a busy bartender for water when there’s a faucet or sink in the bathroom is in very bad taste! Keep your cup and fill when you can.
  • 1:1 alcoholic-to-water ratio of drinks will keep you from becoming intoxicated. Most people are looking at hangovers if their ratio creeps past 4:1, especially if they’re older than 25.
  • On your first walk through the venue, note the location of the exits and bathrooms. If you’re planning on drinking or consuming any other controlled substances, designate meeting times and places for when you’re (planning) on being down. Do so when sober and make a note of it in such a way that when your phone dies, you’ll still be able to find it. If you’re unsure of where the exits are, ask the DM or your greeter when you arrive.
  • If you’re determined to consume controlled substances at a play event, make sure to go over exactly your boundaries, your plan for the evening, whether you’ll be drinking as well, and who else will know what you’re on. Having a buddy aware of your plans can save a lot of frustrated grasping at words when the EMT needs to know what’s up.
  • Go over the rules of the event with anyone who is going to be attending thanks to you, including anyone you sent an invite to or those who will be arriving & leaving with you. Ensure they’re aware of the event’s specific rules, in addition to having a basic understanding of the need for water, enthusiastic consent and asking permission before touching or photographing.
  • If you are not a paid performer, or booked specifically by the event producer, do not interrupt scheduled scenes or other play that involves equipment provided by the producer/event, until the scene is over. It’s a bad look, and might cause injury depending on the scene.
  • If you’ve discussed playing with your partner or any other attendee in a way that might cause those who don’t know you to question something like consent or safety, make sure a DM (at the very least) or the event producer (preferred) are aware of your plans. Additionally, confirm the event is an appropriate venue for that level of intense play.
  • Have something to eat before you arrive. If you’re diabetic, hypoglycemic or allergic to anything  common to the play environment (latex, leather, etc), make sure someone is aware of your allergy & bring extra snacks/supplies to ensure your blood sugar doesn’t drop in the middle of a crowded dance floor or behind closed doors.
  • Understand the flow & feng shui of the rooms. If you’re standing in front of the only doorway leading to a play area or a bathroom, even if you’re currently scoring the number of the hottest person at the event, you’re wrong.

2nd Tier: DM Training

This is the area where I think we have the biggest chance to make an impact. If we can create a certification program for DMs, and then use our network to ensure only certified DMs are used at play parties in the tri-state area, we’ve won.

  • Designate a Chief DM while the event is still in the planning phases. This person should, ideally, be a licensed medical professional or a heavily trained harm reduction professional who will take the reins of training or retraining all DMs.
  • While medical professionals such as EMTs or paramedics are optimal, First Aid/CPR-certified individuals can also be used. All potential DMs should be trained, or come trained in threat de-escalation, enthusiastic consent practices, general safe sex practices, and trauma response.
  • Trauma response training is critical for all DMs, and quick/actionable training in how to recognize trauma (An expansive list of trauma symptoms can be found here: need to be done before any DMs should be allowed to enter the venue. Optimally, this occurs asynchronously & remotely.
  • The Chief DM should be well trained in BDSM procedural safety, scene preparation & breakdown. Additionally, any modifications to the playplace set up, including last minute additions or replacements, require Chief DM notification immediately. The last thing anyone wants is for a suspension rig to be brought in, with no one trained on DMing those types of scenes.
  • Chief DM will work with DM trainees & event producers to develop safe sex practices for the event. A variety of options are possible, but they must be agreed upon fully before the event. Otherwise, DMs may not be aware of changes in plans and view consensual actions as violations.
  • The Chief DM should be SOBER for the entire event, including set-up and strike. While no one will chide the DM if they have a glass of champagne over the evening, a drunk DM is a threat to everyone’s safety.
  • The Chief DM may not have time to disinfect or clean play areas, depending on how the night goes. While help in the mundane tasks from the Chief DM is always welcome, it is not their job to clean up after attendees.
  • If at all possible, the Chief DM role should be a paid role. This greatly increases the willingness for experienced DMs to work, so if there’s any room in the budget, do so.
  • Any house rules or event-specific guidelines should be brought up to the Chief DM before the DM begins to recruit other DMs or formulate their training guidelines.
  • If the DM is visible in the greater community, confirm with them before they’re added to the event listings as a potential reason to attend your event over others. Their wishes on publicity should be honored.
  • If there are going to be a large number of substance users at your event, any information about their choice in substance should be communicated to the Chief DM as soon as possible. This can inform their practices & actions from guests that could trigger a DM response.  The Chief DM should also have veto power/ability to walk if the producer wants controlled substances at their event and are not willing to listen to the DM before the event. Especially if this is a paid/contracted gig with a liability sub-section.

3rd Tier: Producer/Event Coordinator

As a producer or event coordinator, this is all on you. Even if you’re a whiz with contracts or have expensive legal representation, an injury or accident will be hugely problematic for you, your reputation & your budget. While consent violations may never be eliminated completely from the play scene in your city, there are absolutely ways to minimize the possibility of them happening.

  • Understand the differences in revenue, marketing, and safety that accompany closed, open & invite only events. There is a difference between a closed & invite-only party.
  • Have a good idea in your mind of the aesthetic of your event, in play, fashion, intoxicants & attendees. Note that any *can* be mixed together, but most *shouldn’t* be mixed together. If you don’t know the rules, don’t break them in an effort to be cool or iconoclastic.
  • While there are probably a couple of kinksters in your local area who share an appreciation of some obscure fetish or scene, understand that population may not exist in large enough numbers to fully sell out your event. If you have passersby, “saw the Facebook event & bought a ticket” people, and other watchers that don’t plan on participating, you may see some dissonance between your regulars and the newbs. Meditate on how much dissonance you’re willing to tolerate and how important it is that the event sell-out/be in the black.
  • Know your crowd. This includes their preference between beer, wine, and liquor, in addition to any other intoxicants that will be consumed by more than a half dozen people at your event. Furthermore, if your event draws from multiple pre-existing scenes, are there scene queens/kings that should receive a separate invitation? Should they be the ones promoting the event to their people?
  • When it comes to controlled substances, understand the difference between closed & open use. Closed use is generally thought to be done by a handful of people, not shared with others & not advertised as possible. Open use is thought to be done by many of those in attendance, socially accepted to “offer” to others, and potentially including individuals at the event who sell those substances. A quick example of closed vs. open: “Closed” cocaine use would consist of a smattering of your attendees doing key bumps or quietly retreating to a bathroom to do so, while “Open” cocaine use involves mirrors, dealers and potentially lines-on-butts. Know that your aesthetic, music, venue, hours and attendees all influence whether people choose to use openly, but there may still be closed use you’re not aware of.
  • There is very little that event producers can do to stop “Closed” drug use, besides increasing security checks at entry, or spiking penalties for being caught using contraband. Amplifying penalties comes with additional risks, as the Puritans found out.
  • “Open” substance use can be modulated depending on who is doing what, and who is willing to keep that shit to themselves, depending on the closeness of the users to the producer & Chief DM. There are plenty of reasons why substance use would be stratified depending on circle/tier of payment/access, but those are conversations that need to happen offline or in person. Discussing controlled substance usage at your party with a substance user on Facebook? You’re wrong.
  • For either type of substance use, testing should be strongly encouraged. I’ve seen producers go as far as to demand a qualitative substance test result before allowing individuals carrying to enter the event. Optimally, this should occur way in advance of the event. All untested drugs and most tested drugs are a potential deal breaking/brand ending liability & risk factor for any boutique event.
  • That being said, substance use can have its own harms minimized. Cannabis use is usually well tolerated by most individuals, especially if they haven’t had any alcohol. Heavily stoned people asking the bartender for a stiff drink should be given a second look.
  • Alcohol does not mix well with other drugs. Alcohol + Ketamine, DXM, opiates, Tramadol, Benzos or amphetamines is a tremendous risk, and cardiovascular events involving these substances or commonly found adulterants within these drug classes may not be resolvable without a medical transport. Think twice about allowing anyone to engage in or encourage the following types of polydrug use at your event:  
  • With MDMA & Cocaine being idealized substance choices for play events, special care must be paid to ensure the common side effects of these substances are anticipated. MDMA use can lead to heatstroke or hyponatremia, which exacerbates the potential dangers from physically taxing or intense scenes. Cocaine has been used as a date rape drug. All controlled substances affect the ability of attendees to consent. For longer events, or in events where there is sub-par air conditioning, electrolyte offerings such as Gatorade or salty snacks should be provided in addition to water.
  • Consider only providing beer/wine/champagne, instead of a full bar. Mixed drinks & neat liquor can push people into a place of uncomfortable intoxication more quickly than drinks that cause frequent pee breaks.
  • If possible, create a space where individuals who may have suffered a consent violation or are too intoxicated to continue partying responsibly can go. Assign an older DM to this space & use it as a cool down & processing environment. This area should not get through traffic and play should not be permitted there.
  • If your venue has rooms with doors that close, ensure they either don’t have locks, or you have access to a key BEFORE THE EVENT STARTS. If you cannot open a door, assume you’ll need to break it down and pay for it something happens behind it.
  • Fire Extinguishers: If you don’t know the difference between A/B/C/D/K extinguishers, make sure at least one person on your staff does or is Fire Guard Certified in the state you’re throwing the event.
  • Understand that if you don’t have access to certain types of fire extinguishing systems (sprinklers, Class D extinguishers, etc), you cannot have certain types of flame at your events. For example, without a Class D fire extinguisher, metals may not be combusted for any reason, including performance or “effect.” Period. Violating these laws comes with a severe penalty.