One man died and two others were on life support after they took an unidentified drug at a New Year’s Eve rave on a remote Mount Lindesay property on the Queensland and New South Wales border.
Queensland police were called out to the YewbuNYE rave at around 10.20 am on Sunday morning due to reports that people were acting erratically after having taken an unknown substance.
Police located five people with adverse reactions and paramedics were called out to the two-day event.
The toll of the unidentified drug
Daniel Towson from the Queensland Ambulance Service told the ABC that one man in his 20s went into cardiac arrest when they arrived. And “they were unable to resuscitate him at the scene after working on him for a very long time.”
Two others were airlifted to the Gold Coast University Hospital and were still in a critical condition on Monday evening. And the last two men who were suffering a bad reaction refused treatment and rushed into the bush. Police were searching for them at the time.
Police confirmed on Monday afternoon that the deceased was 26-year-old Nimbin man Jake Monahan, while the two that have been hospitalised are a 29-year-old Clothiers Creek man and a 25-year-old Nimbin man.
Up to 500 people were attending the YewbuNYE rave party over the weekend. DJ Zee Nagual, who played at the event on New Year’s Eve, said he’d noticed bizarre behaviour from dozens of revellers.
The DJ said that as he was leaving the event he saw a group of four partygoers acting out of control and looking like they were “demonically possessed.” And others at the festival reported seeing a man thrashing and clawing at the ground.
The police response
Police responded to the incident by setting up roadside drug testing sites on either side of the event. Senior Constable Scott Tragis said five positive drug tests had been returned just after setting up operations.
On Monday, Queensland police announced they were waiting to interview the organisers of the event. They also said that the toxicology test results could take up to anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
The incident on the Gold Coast
A similar incident occurred in October last year when paramedics were called out to treat 21 drug-affected people who were acting erratically on the Gold Coast.
After overdosing on what they thought was ecstasy, 16 people were hospitalised, two of whom were place in an induced coma.
Initial reports indicated that the substance was the so-called zombie drug flakka. But after 27-year-old Victorian football player Ricki Stephens died, toxicology results revealed that he’d taken a cocktail of MDMA and a New Psychoactive Substance, known as NBOMe.
New substances sold as ecstasy
Canberra emergency physician Dr David Caldicott told Sydney Criminal Lawyers® at the time that NBOMe is a drug that’s been linked to poisoning, heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure.
Caldicott – one of Australia’s leading harm reduction experts – believes there’s a very real danger with a drug like NBOMe being mixed with MDMA, as people expecting the effects of ecstasy will be confronted with a very different experience.
“If they’re all in the same pill that is absolutely something we need to know,” he said, because what happened on the Gold Coast “could be replicated in anyone of the music festivals all over Australia.”
And sadly, this may be what actually happened on the border of Queensland and New South Wales last weekend.
Calls for pill testing
Sunday’s tragic death prompted Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, to publicly call for pill testing at events like music festivals.
“We should have the courage to test things, like we tested the legal syringe program in the late 1980s, methadone, car seat belts, a whole range of harm reduction measures,” Dr Wodak told the ABC.
Wodak – along with Caldicott and Unharm’s Will Tregoning – announced plans early last year to introduce pill testing trials at NSW music festivals.
This was in response to a tragic spate of six deaths attributed to drug overdoses at festivals around the state over the twelve month period beginning November 2014.
It’s been available in Europe for decades
Per capita Australian adults lead the world in the use of the drug ecstasy, according to UNODC data. But in the Netherlands – where party drug use is also prevalent – stories about people dying are less common.
This is because European nations like the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Austria have had official pill testing services for decades. And the European Union has actually produced pill testing best practice guidelines.
Five reasons to implement pill testing
Writing in the Conversation Professor Alison Ritter of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, listed five reasons why Australia should be implementing a pill testing program.
The first is that it works as a quality control system for the black market. If substances are identified as particularly dangerous – such as the case with NBOMe on the Gold Coast – they will eventually not be found within the contents of drugs being produced.
And overtime the contents of the drugs being produced begins correspond to what’s expected within them.
While the third reason was that research has shown pill testing changes consumers’ behaviour. In Austria, 50 percent of those who had their drugs tested said it had affected their consumption choices.
Another reason is that pill testing services create an opportunity for drug users to come into contact with counsellors who can discuss their substance use with them. And they also allow researchers to capture information about what kinds of drugs are available on the market.
The response of NSW authorities
However, NSW premier Mike Baird dismissed pill testing plans as “ridiculous” in February last year. He told reporters that “we are not going to be condoning in any way what illegal drug dealers are doing.”
While last month, NSW police were slammed for seizing seven pill testing kits during a raid of a shop in the Sydney inner west suburb of Newtown. The testing kits are not illegal under NSW law, but the police took them along with other drug equipment they were seizing.
It’s high time
Drug use is going to continue. Over fifty years of the war on drugs has proven that. The general public has been calling for a system of pill testing that will prevent the deaths of the nation’s young for some time now. And the system has proven effective in Europe for decades.
It’s only the authorities that are preventing this life-saving harm reduction method, which if in place could have prevented the tragic death at last weekend’s bush rave.