4 drug fatalities in 5 years. How does this happen?
A DANCE music festival with an appalling record of drug deaths and injury has taken a further two young lives from suspected overdoses and left three more fighting for survival — leaving justice campaigners questioning how it was allowed to go ahead this year.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal 23-year-old Joseph Pham (right) is one of the fatalities from Saturday night’s “Defqon. 1” event in Penrith.
Confirmation of his death came as police were still sorting through the aftermath of a party so drug-infested that 10 people were charged with possession — including two 17-year-old girls carrying 200 pills each.
FOR months Joseph Pham had been posting excitedly on social media about the Sydney music festival where he went into cardiac arrest and died from a suspected drug overdose at the weekend.
The 23-year-old from Edensor Park was one of three revellers at the Defqon. 1 hard trance festival in Penrith who had heart attacks at the same time. A 21-year-old woman from Victoria also died.
Shocked Premier Gladys Berejiklian yesterday vowed to shut down the festival — where two people had already died in the previous year — with another three young revellers fighting for their lives in hospital.
“I’m absolutely aghast at what’s occurred. I don’t want any family to go through the tragedy that some families are waking up to this morning,” Ms Berejiklian said. “This is an unsafe event and I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure it never happens again.”
Mr Pham regularly reposted messages on his Facebook page from Sniff Off, which argues against the use of police sniff- er dogs. The last one he shared described the “ridiculous” levels of “anxiety” the use of police dogs put revellers through as they attended Saturday night’s festival.
As many as 700 of the 30,000 revellers at the Sydney International Regatta Centre sought attention from medics, who were responding to multiple reports of suspected drug overdoses.
“It was a very traumatic scene, we had three patients in cardiac arrest simultaneously,” NSW Ambulance liaison officer Katherine Rallings said. “It is so hard when you lose anybody, particularly young people. This is a sense- less waste of life. No party is worth risking your life for.” Local representatives of QDance, the Netherlands-based organisers of Defqon. 1, said: “We are disappointed at the number of reported drug-related incidents. We have a zero-tolerance policy in relation to drug use at the festival.” Two other young Australians have died at Defqon events in the past five years. In September 2015 Nigel Pauljevic, 26, died after being found unconscious in a tent and in 2013 James Munro, 23, died from a suspected ecstasy overdose. Mr Pauljevic’s father Mita yesterday said that nothing had been learnt since his son’s death. “There’s so much of it around and the dealers push you to take it so they can make an easy buck,” he said. “Drugs will never go away, the police should test them on the spot and make sure they’re not full of dangerous substances.” But young partygoers remain oblivious to the danger, with one tweeting joyfully on Saturday night: “Just saw a video on Facebook of my brother at Defqon with his eyes rolling back in his head. How’s your night going?” Police conducted 355 drug
This is a senseless waste… no party is worth risking your life for.
Katherine Rallings, NSW Ambulance
searches on Saturday night and found 69 people in possession of narcotics, including two 17-year-old girls who were attempting to smuggle 120 capsules into the event inside their bodies. They were among 10 people charged.
But one festival-goer told The Daily Telegraph there were fewer police at the event than previous years. “In the past you would have to walk past at least 20 police officers with sniffer dogs on your way in,” she said. “This year I only saw three dogs. I wasn’t searched on my way in.”
One of those charged with supplying a prohibited drug, Alexander Naberezhnon, 27, appeared in Parramatta Local Court wearing a “Cocaine and Caviar” brand hoodie and was refused bail after claiming he was paid $300 to carry ecstasy pills and mobile phones into the event. “He is what is commonly described as a mule,” Magistrate Peter Ashton said. “If someone gets a dud dose and dies then he’s just as complicit as the real supplier.”
Vietnamese international business student Vo Dang Phan, 22, was granted bail on a charge of supplying a commercial quality of drugs after police allegedly caught him with 20 soy sauce bottles filled with the drug GHB worth $1000. A third man, Douglas Wood, 33, from Mount Pritchard had his case for supplying a prohibited drug adjourned until today after police alleged he was caught carrying 243g of MDMA.
Police have set up Strike Force Highworth to investigate the deaths of Mr Pham and the 21-year-old woman. They said 13 festival-goers had gone to Nepean Hospital for treatment.
A 26-year-old woman remains in a critical condition and a 19-year-old man from Artarmon was flown to West- mead Hospital where his condition stabilised. Another 20year-old man was seriously ill in Liverpool Hospital.
“We never seem to learn,” said drug campaigner Tony Wood, whose 15-year-old daughter Anna died after taking ecstasy at a Sydney dance party in 1995. “It is absolutely disappointing, I just feel so sorry for the parents of the people who have died. Grief is a constant thing and it never goes away. It’s always just below the surface.”
Saturday night in Sydney was absolutely beautiful. It was one of those perfect Sydney spring evenings, rich with summer promise. Across the city, people enjoyed long, slow walks just to experience the night’s wonder.
Tragically, for two young adults at Penrith’s Defqon.1 music festival, Saturday night was the last night of their lives.
Aged just 23 and 21, the festival attendees suffered fatal heart attacks following suspected drug overdoses. A third heart attack victim clings for life in hospital.
“It was a very traumatic scene,” NSW Ambulance liaison officer Katherine Rallings said as an evening at the Sydney International Regatta Centre went from celebratory to terrifying.
“We had three patients in cardiac arrest simultaneously. It is so hard when you lose anybody, particularly young people. This is a senseless waste of life. No party is worth risking your life for.”
The raw statistics read like a casualty count after a terrorist attack: two dead, multiple others in critical condition and some 700 requiring medical intervention at the festival site.
Shockingly, the final Facebook message shared by apparent drug victim Joseph Pham described what he said were “ridiculous” levels of “anxiety” caused by the use of police dogs at the festival.
Yet other attendees said there were fewer police at the event than in previous years. “In the past you would have to walk past at least 20 police officers with sniffer dogs on your way in,” she told The Daily Telegraph.
“This year I only saw three dogs. I wasn’t searched on my way in.”
In the wake of this tragedy, police must revise and increase their use of sniffer dogs and other means of drug detection at these and similar events. That is if, of course, if such occasions are permitted to continue.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian is presently of a mind to ban the events outright — and few, at the moment, would sensibly argue otherwise.
“I’m absolutely aghast at what’s occurred. I don’t want any family to go through the tragedy that some families are waking up to this morning,” the Premier said. “This is an unsafe event and I’ll do everything I can to make sure it never happens again.”
The Premier should also push for tougher anti-drug legal penalties. Young lives are at stake.
Vo Dang Phan leaves Amber Laurel Correctional Centre in Emu Plains after being bailed on drug charges.
A hoodie like that worn by suspected ‘mule’ Alexander Naberezhnon.
Joseph Pham, who died after what is believed to be a drug-related heart attack at Defqon. 1, and (left) huge crowds at the festival, and (above left) paramedics work on one of the people taken ill at the festival.