The first two days of a Coronial Inquest into drug-related deaths at NSW music festivals over summer have yielded some disturbing revelations.
To start with, the court heard yesterday that Central Coast teenager Alex Ross King’s fatal overdose at Sydney’s FOMO festival back in January was tragically avoidable, with her friends saying the 19-year-old panic-swallowed three caps of MDMA out of fear of getting into trouble after she saw sniffer dogs.
“She told her friends that [it was] because she was nervous about being caught by the police that she took the drugs like that, apparently to avoid the risk of being caught,” Counsel Assisting Peggy Dwyer told the inquest (via The Guardian).
She said the presence of police at the fest appeared to be a direct cause for Ross King’s fatal decision to “double dose” (AKA take more than one pill at once), adding that the practice was super common.
Studies show that up to 90% of Aussie festivalgoers have dabbled in recreational MDMA use, and of those, almost half have also “double dropped”.
“I expect that your honour will hear that this is done, as in the case of young Alex, to avoid being caught by police and charged with a criminal offence,” Dwyer told the court.
She added that while police and security often played a “vital role” in responding to medical emergencies, the “presence and behaviours” of police and security can also “exacerbate the risks associated with drug use”.
“After the deaths this summer, NSW Health interviewed a number of patrons who had suffered an adverse reaction to drugs in order to understand the patterns of use,” Dwyer continued.
“A number of participants reported that their risky behaviours were driven by fear of police, including taking drugs prior to arrival at the event and avoiding the medical centre or open disclosure of substance use.”
Meanwhile, in the case of 23-year-old Joseph Pham, who died after overdosing at last year’s Defqon.1 dance festival, the Inquest today heard that the critically ill teen was forced to wait an hour before being transferred to hospital by ambulance.
As The Guardian reports, Dr Andrew Beshara was managing two “significant patients” — including a psychosis post-MDMA ingestion and an asthma attack — when Pham arrived at the medical tent at about 7.34pm. Despite recognition that he needed an urgent hospital transfer, an ambulance wasn’t ready to take him to the Nepean ER until 8.35pm.
“His jaw was essentially wired shut, his arms and legs were tensed up and he was very stiff,” Beshara told the Inquest.
“Essentially from the moment we received him, he would need to be transferred.”
Beshara was one of just two Event Medical Services doctors on hand at the sold-out 30,000 capacity event at the time, and he admitted that there was a lack of coordination between EMS staff and NSW Ambulance.
“That was definitely the biggest event I’ve ever done … there should be a lot more staff,” he said. “If you have two emergency beds, two doctors per bed would have been a lot more feasible.”
The inquest is looking into ways to prevent further deaths at NSW festivals, including harm-reduction measures like pill-testing, and issues surrounding law enforcement.
The NSW Government has consistently denied that pill-testing could save lives, despite yet more evidence that pill-testing saves lives, plus two overwhelmingly successful pill-testing trials at Groovin The Moo Canberra and studies showing that the vast majority of Aussies are in favour of it.
Instead, their so-called “war on music festivals” continues…