ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - This family friendly tourist city has become a mecca for a more hedonistic group of fun seekers - young people looking for all-night dance parties where illicit drug use is common. Orlando, home of Disney World, is seeing an increase in "raves," thanks to a growing work force of young people who get off late and want some place to party.
City officials believe things are getting out of hand and have formed a task force to explore ways to keep the party going without the use of LSD, Ecstasy and methamphetamines.
"Overdoses have become a problem," said Orlando police Capt. Sal Lomonaco, a member of the mayor's Rave Review Task Force. Raves drew national attention when dozens of young people were sickened on New Year's Eve after consuming an herbal drink at an all-night party in Los Angeles. The maker of the drink stopped producing the concoction after a warning from federal officials.
The rave task force in Orlando was to meet for the first time today. Among the suggestions to tame the parties: police-sponsored raves or all-night dances held by churches. And Orlando isn't the only Florida city cracking down. In Tallahassee, lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit nightclubs and bars from staying open past last call at 2 a.m. Violators could face a misdemeanor charge and lose their liquor license. The bill is modeled after an ordinance passed by Tampa last year.
The Orlando City Council has endorsed the idea. Club owners - even those who don't hold raves - are vehemently opposed. "A big part of the a dance club attraction is how late we stay open," said John Gardner, owner of Barberella, a downtown club. "Staying open allows our customers extra time to sober up on our dance floor."
Orlando nightclubs began holding raves about two years ago. Before that, the parties had been held secretly for years at warehouses or open fields. "It's dance, dance, dance," said Michael Torres, 28, a graphic designer, who has been to several Orlando raves. "The music and the people are ready to explode."
Pulsating synthesized music, elaborate lighting and drugs are all part of the scene. Most of the drug activity is done secretly out of fear of undercover cops and security guards. Compared to New York and New Jersey, where rave-goers sometimes openly use heroin, the drug usage at Orlando raves is much tamer, Torres said. Ravers in Orlando frequently use LSD, animal tranquilizers, marijuana, Rohypnol and Ecstasy.
Orlando police have conducted undercover operations at the clubs, making 26 arrests four months ago. But catching people buying and selling drugs is difficult, Lomonaco said. "It's done carefully and secretly," he said. Club owners said they don't tolerate drug use and have worked with police to combat it.
However, there is only so much that can be done, said Jon Marsa, owner of the Club of Firestone in downtown. "Any nightclub owner on this planet that tells you drugs is absent from his club is lying," he said.Back to Media Watch