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Party Pills: Life After the ICU

A man and two women standing with their backs to the camera at a a festival. The picture was take in the daytime and the festival is brightly coloured.

In 2019, a 22-year-old Canberra man ended up in the ICU at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred hospital, after ingesting a contaminated ecstasy pill at Sydney’s Laneway music festival.

Dr Monica Barratt, a drug policy expert from RMIT University, claims in her study of Australian music festival attendees that almost 15 percent of drug induced deaths in young people was a result in the choice to consume MDMA at parties, festivals and ‘private places.’

Although the death percentage at festivals only makes up 4 percent of national deaths as a result of taking MDMA, the dangers of taking the drug do not go unnoticed within the nation. Dr Barratt reiterated to the Sydney Morning Herald that ‘MDMA isn’t necessarily safe’ no matter the dosage or purity.

A recent interview with a survivor of an MDMA overdose at a Sydney music festival, indicates the harsh realities that surround drug use and its dangers to young people within Australia.

The young man wished not to be named, so for the purpose of this interview we will be referring to him as Justin.

Justin’s MDMA experience serves as a reminder to the young Australian community of the harsh realities surrounding taking illicit and untested substances at a music festival.

Very dark, crowded moshpit at a music festival
Laneway music festival mosh pit

Rebecca: Tell me a little bit about the day of the festival. Where were you?

Justin: This particular festival was Laneway festival in Sydney, 2019. I remember that it was hot. Very hot. I had just returned from Japan and was excited to hang out with my friends. We were all drinking alcohol, but I remember drinking a lot of water because of the heat. A lot of my friends were taking drugs, because it’s a normal thing to do at a festival.

Rebecca: What kind of drugs were your friends taking? Did you participate in the drug use?

Justin: I took two MDMA [ecstasy] pills that I got from two close friends, who got the pills from the same source. Because I was in Japan for three weeks, I didn’t have my own drugs. I wasn’t planning on taking them, but my friends wanted me to join in the fun. I got offered the first pill for free from a friend and took it at around 12pm. Another friend offered me a second pill at around 2pm. I did not take the pills at the same time.

Rebecca: What do you remember after you took the Ecstasy pills and how did you feel?

Justin: I have taken more than two MDMA pills at different festivals before. My body has never reacted negatively to ecstasy and it has always been a fun high. After [taking] my second pill I remember feeling strange. It felt different to the other times I had taken MDMA. I felt fuzzy and shaky, something I hadn’t experienced before.

I also remember being in the Denzel Curry mosh pit. It was hot and people were pushing each other around. It was a rough mosh. All I remember was falling over. When I first fell over, I stood back up, but I felt pins and needles through my legs. I think I fell over about three times. The final time I collapsed, I felt my friend that was behind me catch me, but I don’t remember much after that. I woke up in hospital in the ICU a few days later.


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A post shared by Denzel Curry (@denzelcurryph)

Rebecca: Do you remember anything from the hospital?

Justin: It was horrible you know. I hadn’t seen my parents for three weeks while I was in Japan and then I woke up in the ICU with them by my side. I didn’t know what day it was. I had lots of tubes sticking out of me. Other than waking up, I don’t remember anything from the hospital.

Rebecca: What did your friends and the doctors say happened after you were rushed to hospital?

Justin: My friend who caught me thought I broke my leg. He didn’t realise that I was actually having a seizure. He told me that he dragged me out of the mosh pit and to the medics. That’s when they rushed me to hospital. Apparently when I was in the ambulance on my way to [Royal Prince Alfred] hospital I had a second seizure. [The paramedics] rushed me to the ICU and I was in there for a few days. I don’t know how long. They put me in a coma, and I woke up a few days later. My friends were told that they didn’t know if I was going to live, die or have brain damage for the rest of my life. The doctor’s told my friends and parents that my body had reacted badly to something in the pill I took. Everyone was telling me how lucky I was to be alive and not have brain damage.

Rebecca: Do you know what was in the pill that made you react like that?

Justin: I remember the doctor bringing me a list of things that was in my body that came from the MDMA pill. It was a pretty long list, but they were all in medical terms. If I am being honest, I don’t remember exactly what they were.

Rebecca: Why do you think it is now dangerous to take drugs at music festivals?

Justin: I think the dangers outweigh the fun. I never thought that I would end up in ICU in a different city because of one tiny pill. So many people take drugs at festivals and don’t think about how dangerous it can be. You do not know what is in the drugs you are taking, even if they are from someone you know.

Rebecca: Did you get your pills tested and were there any pill testing services at Laneway Festival?

Justin: No, I didn’t get my pills tested. There weren’t any pill testing services at Laneway. I did hear about pill testing at Groove in the Moo in Canberra though.

Rebecca: What are your views on Pill Testing? Do you think it is important?

Justin: I think that pill testing is an amazing idea. It could save lives. If I knew what was in the pills that I took, and that they were going to land me in the ICU, I wouldn’t have taken them. I think that pill testing should be at all Australian festivals.

Rebecca: What would be your advice to young people that take drugs at music festivals?

Honestly my advice would be don’t take drugs, but I know young people are not going to listen or do that. But if you take anything from my story it is to be careful with what you are putting into your body. You don’t know what is in drugs, especially pressed pills. If you are going to take drugs, make sure they are tested and it is safe.

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