A new class of illicit drugs never before seen by medical practitioners is emerging in Australia and making it “difficult” to treat overdosing patients presenting at emergency departments, a medical expert says.
Emergency physician and drug expert at Calvary Hospital in Canberra, David Caldicott, told The New Daily that as well as these surfacing superdrugs, there were also batches of drugs circulating with extremely high dosages – sometimes four times the pharmaceutical recommendation.
His comments came as two people died and more than 35 were rushed to hospital from suspected drug overdoses during the nationwide Stereosonic music festival over the past two weekends.
Dr Caldicott labelled the 2015/16 festival season the “deadliest” yet, and linked the two deaths to possible ingestion of high-dosage MDMA, or ecstasy.
“There are literally hundreds of products that even nerds like myself have no idea about, and that’s one of the biggest concerns we have,” Dr Caldicott said.
“We have never been, as doctors and law enforcement folk, more uncertain of what’s out there.
“All we know is … we don’t know what the effects are, and therefore neither do the consumers.”
Dr Caldicott said that drugs that were circulating might be pure, but could contain an extremely high dose of the illicit substance.
“If you look at MDMA, which is being pharmaceutically trialled for post-traumatic disorder, the medical dosage is about 75mg. That will get you an effect,” he said.
“We have identified doses of up to 300mg, which could really put you in a world of pain.
“There are many aspects of the last two deaths which look very much like high-dose MDMA.”
The extremely hot temperatures set to hit the country this summer could also contribute to this being the “deadliest” festival season ever, he said.
“Many of these drugs can cause overheating, that combined with high temperatures can be lethal.”
Deaths, overdoses at Stereosonic festival
Two people died from suspected drug overdoses at the Stereosonic festival over the past two weekends.
Sylvia Choi, 25, from Oyster Bay, NSW, was taken from the Sydney festival to the Concord Hospital where she later died.
One week after Ms Choi’s death, 19-year-old Stefan Woodward also died from a suspected overdose at the Adelaide Stereosonic.
Following the deaths, Stereosonic event organisers pre-warned festival goers of the dangers of taking illicit drugs at the Brisbane and Melbourne festivals at the weekend.
But the calls went unnoticed by some.
A teen remained in a critical condition after attending the Melbourne event on Saturday. Six other people were suspected of overdosing on drugs.
Meanwhile, Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) director of operations Tim Eva said a total of 19 patients were assessed at the Brisbane festival, with 17 requiring transport to emergency departments for treatment of suspected drug overdoses.
‘Being at the source will educate experts’
Dr Caldicott is calling for on-site pill testing, conducted by medical practitioners, at music festivals and events, which he said would reduce the number of deaths and drug-related overdoses.
He said a preventative measure was needed, because the law enforcment or prohibition approach was clearly not working.
“Dance festivals are the Sierra Leone of Ebola – if you want to find out about Ebola you go to the sharp end and work out interventions that work at the sharp end,” Dr Caldicott said.
“This is a nimble market, it’s impossible to keep ahead of it without banning everything.
“It’s being researched online, it’s being paid for with crypto-currency like Bitcoin and the like, it’s being delivered by the posties, and most of the time unidentifiable by sniffer digs and not detected in urine.”
‘Look out for your mates’
Mr Woodward’s family had since come forward to urge other young people to “not be afraid” to ask for help and to watch out for their mates.
“I want organisers of events like these to make sure there is enough first aid on offer to make sure that no-one gets turned away, and no-one feels they need to wait,” the family said in a statement.
“I want friends to look after each other and make sure it’s never considered weak to ask for help. I want authorities to make sure kids are kept safe with free water.
“And I want young boys and girls like Stefan to never be too scared to ask for help.”