LIFE Magazine: August 14, 1970
THE ROCK DOCTOR TELLS OF 985 FREAKOUTS
At half a dozen rock festivals from Wood-stock to Powder Ridge, 44-year-old Dr. William Abruzzi, who is resident physician at the State University of New York at New Paltz, has treated thousands of kids on bad trips from hallucinogenic drugs. Last week he discussed the festival drug scene with LIFE Correspondent Robert Stokes.
I couldn't take another Powder Ridge. I love kids too much to go through that again. I mean, when you hold in your arms a couple hundred kids who are out of their minds, who want to be dead - if you care about them, you just can't take it again.
At Woodstock everybody was determined to make it a peace and love thing. I think the kids were still hopeful that our society would make it - and wanted to help. So Woodstock was a benign, gentle drug scene. We had 800 bad trips there, but that many among a half million kids was small. At Powder Ridge with only 35,000 kids, we treated 985 bad trips, 400 of them on Friday night alone. The acid was heavily laced-up to 30% - with dangerous chemicals like, strychnine, which give a faster and better high. Half of the bad trips we treated were from mixing acid with methedrine-tripping and speeding at the same time. We even saw some animal tranquilizers used for downers. It's truly a miracle that we didn't have any deaths.
At one point we had 150 kids freaked out simultaneously. I'm not talking about the kid who is a little spaced out and saying, "Look, baby, I don't know where I am." I mean the horrendous kind, the paranoia, muscular activity, hostility, aggression, kind of frightened-out-of-their-minds scene that is unbelievable unless you've seen it happen.
One kid came in screaming, "Shut the door... the war's over... I'm the security guard." He screamed it incessantly at the top of his lungs, again and again and again - without respite - as the sweat poured off him. He was in the most unbelievable panic state. It took six people to hold him down and keep him from killing himself or somebody else. We couldn't even get him into the car, he was in such a rigid seizure. Every time he screamed that phrase, he spat. I held him for 45 minutes and he spat in my face incessantly. I couldn't let him go for fear he would have felt further rejected... Finally, I was so fed up, so sick of watching him I said, "All right, everybody get off him, quickly." He was stunned for a moment and just lay there. I put my face close to his and said, "You know what?" He said, "No, what?" I said "I'm sick and tired of walking around this goddamned place alone. Why don't you get off that bed which you don't really need and walk around with me?" He looked at me and said, "Yeah, Doc. Yeah, I'll walk around with you." He got up, took my hand, and we walked around the building for about 15 minutes. Then he went over, sat on a bench with a chick and the whole thing was over.
There is no doubt in my mind that the lack of music at Powder Ridge contributed to the heavy drug scene. On Friday night, when there was no music, we had hundreds of bad trips. On Saturday night, when local rock groups finally arrived, we had only 57 bummers from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. The whole spirit of the place changed. The kids walked around with smiles on their faces, and they weren't dropping everything in sight.
The kids at rockfests are saying, "You don't want us. We're really not a part of what you are. You've never really listened to us or taken us into your society." These kids want to be a part of something where everyone cares about everyone else. We didn't treat a knife wound or a punch in the 5,000 kids we treated there. The kids at Powder Ridge turned their hostility and frustration inward. They arrived in relatively good faith, but filled with doubt, questions, uncertainty, boredom, futility and resentment. Gradually, they felt they'd been taken, co-opted, utilized for financial reasons, for political reasons. Because of this they did a lot of things they wouldn't have done otherwise. There were a lot of kids who had never tried heavy drugs before. They lost their sense of discrimination in the drugs they used. They lost their sense of self-protection. It didn't really matter; the whole thing was a drag, a bust.
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