The shock deaths of five young men who swallowed a cocktail of toxic chemicals disguised as party drugs has promoted fresh calls for pill testing services.
Anson, Ilker, Jordan, Jason, and James – aged between 17 and 32 – believed they were taking MDMA or magic mushrooms at separate events in Melbourne between July 2016 and January 2017.
What they actually took was a lethal concoction of two chemicals – 25C-NBOMe, a potent psychedelic drug, and the psychoactive stimulant 4-Fluoroamphetamine.
Following an investigation into their deaths, Victorian coroner Paresa Spanos issued a dire warning to the state government on Wednesday urging it to start a program where people can submit samples of illegal substances to be analysed.
Pictured: People protesting in support of pill testing in 2019. State governments have repeatedly rejected calls for testing facilities
The youngest victim, Ansen, took drugs with friends at a party in July 2016 and began having flashbacks about half an hour later.
The 17-year-old ran around screaming ‘boys, stop’ and ‘no, no, no’ before he fell backwards onto a bed and had a seizure, before he started vomiting and banging his head against the bed’s headboard.
He died at Sunshine Hospital soon after.
Ilker, 32, died in similar circumstances about five months later.
Jordan, 22, was pronounced brain dead on Christmas morning in 2016, three days after losing consciousness at a friend’s house.
James was on a working visa from the UK when he took the drug at a birthday party on January 13, 2017.
At about 4am, the 23-year-old stood on the balcony, said ‘f**k this’, and jumped off.
Jason, 30, stopped breathing when he took drugs with his girlfriend in January 2017.
Five male victims believed they were taking MDMA or magic mushrooms at separate events in Melbourne between July 2016 and January 2017 (stock image of MDMA)
Ms Spanos recommended the Victorian Government introduce a testing service and an early warning network to alert drug users to contaminated products.
‘If we accept that there are unlikely to be any major changes to drug regulation in the foreseeable future, or any changes in individual’s preparedness to use illicit drugs, Victorians will continue to be exposed to the risks of unregulated drug markets,’ she said in her inquest findings.
‘There is broad support for a drug checking service and drug early warning network as evidence-based interventions, at least among those with knowledge and expertise in harm minimisation.’
Drug policy expert from RMIT University Monica Barratt, who gave evidence at the inquest, said permanent testing services were preferable to pop-up facilities at events, such as music festivals.
‘I think if we want to reach the majority of people and be equitable than having a static fixed site would be a good model to look at,’ she told The Australian.
She also said it was unlikely the men would have taken the drugs if they knew what they were really taking.
Drug overdose-related deaths rose from 341 in 2010 to 542 in 2018.
Pictured: The pill testing facilities during a media walkthrough ahead of the Groovin the Moo 2019 festival in Canberra
Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association spokesman Dave Taylor said drug use has not been eliminated from any nation worldwide.
He also said that introducing testing facilities would take the pressure off health and emergency services.
The Victorian health department in its submission to the inquest said there were no plans to trial pill testing at public events.
Victoria Police re-iterated its opposition to the proposal, saying it could imply authorities condoned drug taking.
A parliamentary committee in 2018 recommended an early warning system for illicit drugs and pointed to the benefits of a testing service.
Ms Spanos noted the Victorian government had not been receptive to these recommendations.
A NSW coroner in 2019 recommended the introduction of pill testing following six MDMA-related deaths at music festivals in that state.
The ACT allowed consecutive trials at Canberra’s Groovin the Moo in 2018 and 2019.
Most state premiers have continued to oppose pill testing.
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