DRUG OVERDOSE DEATHS AT FESTIVALS HAVE SPARKED DEBATE ABOUT PILL TESTING
MUSIC FESTIVALS HAVE LONG been a coming-of-age tradition. Along with the first legal drink and club entry that comes with turning 18, there is the experience of attending a fun-filled day of music and dancing with mates. Sadly, music festivals have become a source of fear for many Australian parents after a spate of deaths from drug overdoses in the past year.
On Jan. 1, the Field Day festival was held in the picturesque Domain next to Sydney’s Botanical Gardens. But instead of celebrating the beginning of the new year, six festival-goers ended up in ambulances, while 155 people were arrested for drug-related offences – 149 of them for possession, and six for supply – according to a statement from NSW Police.
Additionally, “Five Field Court Attendance Notices (FCANS) were issued for assault”.
One festival-goer claimed that drug use was prevalent on the day. “At the techno stages, there were lots of people who were clearly very intoxicated or on drugs,” he says. “I wouldn’t say everyone was on drugs, but it appeared from people’s actions that the majority were.”
He says people’s behaviour got worse as the day went on. “Towards the end of the night, most people seemed pretty silly.”
In addition to drug use, the festival attendee witnessed people becoming erratic and fights breaking out. “We saw lots of people in the medical tents who were beaten up or bruised.”
Fortunately, despite the overdose reports and violence, the Field Day reveller said they did feel safe. “The medical presence was very big, too, and they had water stands everywhere and medics positioned all throughout so if anything went wrong help was always nearby.”
While there were no fatalities at the Field Day festival, two young people lost their lives at the Lost Paradise and Beyond the Valley festivals. Rugby player Josh Tam, 22, is reported to have died on Dec. 29 after taking an “unknown substance” at the four-day-long Lost Paradise festival in NSW, despite a spokeswoman saying the event was “strictly drug-free.”
On Dec. 30, a 20-year-old man was airlifted to hospital after reportedly suffering a drug overdose at the Beyond the Valley music festival in Victoria. Victoria Police have confirmed that he died on Jan. 2.
Speaking to WHO, NSW Police say the investigations are ongoing. “The deaths will be investigated by the Coroner to determine cause of death.”
Prior to the tragic incident, organisers of Byron Bay’s Falls Festival circulated a text message to those who were set to attend, warning of a potentially fatal pill at the festival. “SERIOUS DRUG ALERT,” the text began, “There is an extremely dangerous orange pill in circulation. Regardless of pill variation, one pill can kill. Seek medical if you feel unwell.”
Deaths from drug overdoses at festivals are nothing new. In September last year, 23-year-old Joseph Pham was one of two people to die from a suspected overdose at the Defqon 1 festival in Sydney.
The Stereosonic annual dance music festival was also discontinued in 2015 after two deaths and more than 20 overdoses across the Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane festivals.
The drug deaths have once again sparked the discussion about pill testing – whereby users can have their pills analysed for deadly ingredients before deciding whether to take them – at public events. Melbourne mother Adriana Buccianti believes pill testing could have saved her 34-year-old son Daniel, who died from a drug overdose at the Rainbow Serpent Festival in 2012. “We know that people, young people, will take drugs,” Buccianti said. “We need to protect these young people from themselves.”
Brisbane man Josh Tam died in Gosford Hospital after the Lost Paradise music festival in Glenworth Valley, NSW.
“Everywhere we looked, there were packs of four or five policemen with sniffer dogs,” says a festival-goer.
The Beyond the Valley festival, where a young man suffered a drug overdose and later died.
After the deaths at Defqon 1 last year, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, “I never want to see this event held in Sydney or New South Wales ever again.”
Buccianti lost her son Daniel in 2012.
Joseph Pham died on Sept. 15.