Drug Death Parent Says Teens Need To Be 'Saved From Themselves'
The mother of a young man who died of a drug overdose at a music festival says measures must be put in place to help young people "save" themselves from harm.
On Monday, NSW Coroner's Court launched an inquest into six deaths at music festivals between December 2017 and January 2019.
All of those who died were aged between 18 and 23.
The court heard from counsel assisting the coroner, Peggy Dwyer, who said that the autopsies indicated all had died from MDMA toxicity or complications associated with MDMA use. Extremely high body temperatures, muscle spasms, cardiac arrest and respiratory issues were reported across all cases.
Julie Tam, mother of 22-year-old Joshua Tam -- who died at the Lost Paradise Music Festival in December 2018 -- said rules around drug use at festivals need changing.
"Obviously we wish young people would not take risks with drugs...but in a civil society there must be measures we can put in place to try and save them from themselves," she said.
The court heard 19-year-old Callum Brosnan took between six and nine MDMA pills at the Knockout Games of Destiny festival in December 2018.
He had allegedly been taking heavy doses of MDMA for some time, with friends reporting he began using the drug in 2014. Brosnan's parents, like other parents whose children's deaths are being investigated in the inquest, were unaware of their child's drug use.
"Because he functioned so well and was doing so well in life and was so clever and creative and was getting on with his life as a responsible young adult, Callum's parents were not aware of his interest in drugs," Dwyer said.
However, on this occasion Brosnan began exhibiting overdose symptoms at Sydney Olympic Park station and his body temperature soared to 41.9 degrees celsius before he died.
Alex Ross-King was the most recent life lost, dying January 12 at FOMO festival. The court heard the teenager took an unusually high amount of MDMA before arriving at the venue because she was afraid of being caught by police.
Ross-King was unconscious when she arrived at Westmead Hospital unconscious at 5pm after a day of critically overheating at the festival.
In addition to contributions from Doctor Stephen Bright, the Coroner's Court will review the role of police and security at festivals to determine the most effective practices to avoid drug-related deaths.
The deaths being investigated in the inquiry brought the discussion of pill-testing to the fore of public debate in NSW, but Premier Gladys Berejiklian has remained opposed to the concept.
Emergency doctor David Caldicott, a senior lecturer at Australian National University, told 10 daily he has "faith" in the coroner's court to produce well-informed and useful suggestions -- but was not confident about how well they would be implemented.
"I suspect the coronial report will be full of useful suggestions, many of which will be ignored by our elected representatives for political and moral reasons," Caldicott said.
Caldicott said even while the Victorian state government is taking its first tentative steps towards pill-testing, multiple coronial inquiries into drug deaths occurred in Victoria before this was implemented.
Currently, NSW employs what Caldicott refers to as a "tripod of response" including sniffer dogs, police saturation and medical response teams at music festivals to manage drug-related harm.
He believes these responses are a failure to explore more effective avenues of harm reduction, and also exacerbate the problem.
Sniffer dogs and police presence leads young people to make rash decisions and buy riskier products inside festival fences, instead of from trusted friends or contacts outside because "they're worried about not being able them through festival lines," Caldicott said.
The parents of the dead made pleas to the media outside Lidcombe Court on Monday calling for the implementation of harm prevention measures at music festivals.
Dwyer said the six young people were "beautiful souls who have been lost to us."
"Without exception, they were talented, social and community-minded," she said.
Deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame said on Monday the young people who died "could just as easily be the children of my own community or my family."
"They could be any young people who go to music festivals and partake in drugs as many young people do," she said.
"We owe them a proper investigation of the circumstances in which they died,"
The inquest continues.