GREENSBORO — A "disturbing" number of overdose patients at Moses Cone Hospital on New Year's Eve led a local physician to question city leaders about why a concert was allowed at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Brent McQuaid, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Cone Health and LeBauer Healthcare, said he drove into work on Jan. 1 and, on his way, called the electronic intensive care unit that oversees all critical care patients to find out what he could expect at the hospital.
“They said it was a crazy night with a lot of overdoses coming in and that swamped things," McQuaid said.
When he got to the ICU at Moses Cone he learned several critically ill patients had overdosed on drugs at the Bassnectar New Year's Eve 360 concert at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Bassnectar is the stage name of electronic dance music DJ, performer and record producer Lorin Ashton. Coliseum staff said in a written statement that the Bassnectar NYE360 concert is the third-largest concert in coliseum history, bringing 22,300 patrons from 35 states to Greensboro.
But a quick search on the internet shows that Bassnectar's concert has had a long history of being tied to both drug overdoses and some deaths. In Greensboro, police linked the Bassnectar concert to a suspected drug overdose death of a 43-year-old man from New York state.
Coliseum Director Matt Brown declined to comment on the concert outside of the written statement.
"Prior to the concert, the Greensboro Coliseum Complex did an extensive amount of event planning that included meetings with the concert promoter, Greensboro Police Department, Guilford County Emergency Services and Paradocs, an organization contracted by Bassnectar management to provide on-site medical services for concert attendees during the event," the coliseum said in the statement.
The coliseum staff published a list of things banned by Bassnectar at the concert including outside alcohol, electronic cigarettes, vitamins, weapons, crowdsurfing and unsealed tampons, which, according to media reports, are sometimes infused with drugs and alcohol so concertgoers can get high.
The large presence of Guilford County’s first responders coupled with Bassnectar providing his own medical and security teams has made it difficult to learn how many concertgoers needed help during the New Year's Eve concert.
Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott declined to comment on the concert, directing any questions to Brown.
But a Guilford Metro 911 report gave some indications of what first responders encountered.
The report listed six overdoses, 10 calls for an unconscious person, two for disorderly subjects, one general "sick" call, one suspicious person and an assault. One person reported that she believed her friend was dying. The list includes three reports of sexual assaults, although a note indicates they were coded incorrectly.
Cone Health spokesman Doug Allred confirmed the health system had eight overdose patients admitted to its hospitals.
McQuaid said he was assigned to two of the critically ill patients. He said ICU physicians treated concertgoers for MDMA (Ecstasy) overdoses and suspect other substances were used, including cocaine.
McQuaid said MDMA causes a euphoric sensation at first, but an overdose causes patients to become confused, combative, have seizures and can lead to serotonin syndrome, which causes high fevers, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating and muscle breakdown.
After seeing the hospital deal with so many overdose patients, McQuaid decided to write to the council. In the email, he commended the band's medical team for handling several serious situations and "clearly saving lives."
But he questioned the judgment of having the concert in Greensboro — especially learning later that officials had warned Moses Cone Hospital of a possible increase in overdose patients because of the event.
"I question whether or not it is appropriate to welcome an event in our community that puts so many lives at risk," McQuaid wrote. "Clearly there was an understanding that there would be an inappropriate use of illicit drugs at the venue if they had an on site medical response system. This begs the question, does the presence of medical providers encourage such drug use?"
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan told News & Record before the concert that Bassnectar had twice played in Greensboro without any problems and she wasn't concerned.
"We’ve not had any problems locally,” Vaughan said in December. “I don’t see where he really has a problem. I know that he has a good security plan and medical plan.”
A public records request for council member emails about the concert showed Vaughan did not respond to McQuaid but forwarded the email to Brown with the note, "FYI..."
Vaughan did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.
Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter said she raised concerns, after doing an internet search, about Bassnectar's concert but was told the same: he hadn't caused problems in the past.
She said she was disturbed when she saw McQuaid's email.
In one of the emails obtained through a public records request, Abuzuaiter wrote to the council: "Knowing that Bassnectar brought their own medical team in anticipation of overdoses and extreme intoxication concerns me greatly. In today's paper it was reported that there may also have been a death directly associated with this concert.
"One is too many-and the strain on our medical facilities and public safety personnel is a major concern of mine."
Abuzuaiter said Wednesday that Bassnectar bringing his own medical team is like condoning the use of illicit drugs. She feels like that told patrons that it's OK to overdose because doctors would be there to take care of them.
"I appreciate him reaching out to me," Abuzuaiter said of McQuaid's note. "If we know there is a known entity that will tax our public safety, our ER, the coliseum staff, it becomes a major concern."
Councilwoman Sharon Hightower said Wednesday she knew nothing about the concert or the concerns until she received McQuaid's email.
She called him after reading it and forwarded the email to the council, asking for an investigation.
Hightower said she wants to know who knew what ahead of the concert and why the city approved an event with a reputation for having illicit drug activity.
"You are telling me that you are supporting a venue where they have to bring in emergency personnel as a standby in case of medical emergencies and overdoses, not because of heart attacks or older people, but drug activity," Hightower said. "I think in my mind that that is supporting a culture we have a problem with.
"The opioid crisis that everyone is up in arms about is about stopping drug use and we should not be having an event where there is drug use."
Hightower added her constituents have already questioned her about why they are being arrested for marijuana use but city officials condoned a concert with known drug use.
Hightower said it was irresponsible that city officials allowed her to find out about the problems with the concert from a concerned doctor. The coliseum is in Hightower's district.
"I didn't hear it from the mayor, I didn't hear it from the city manager, I didn't hear it from the coliseum director," Hightower said. "A medical personnel person, a degreed doctor, sees a lot of these tragedies more times than he wants to and he is dealing with this.
"Council should have been informed ahead of time."