The 23-year-old man who died of a suspected drug overdose at a dance music festival in West Sydney over the weekend has been identified, while Police confirm he had admitted to hospital staff to swallowing three pills he believed to be ecstasy
Victorian James Munro had travelled from Bayswater with two friends to the annual event, held at the International Regatta Centre in Penrith, as one of the more than 18,000 festival-goers attending the 100+ lineup of electronic artists and DJs performing across several stages.
But only a few hours after the gates opened to the event, the 23-year-old Munro was discovered on-site at the festival, barely conscious and alone, before he was taken to the medical tent and started having seizures just before midday.
He was then rushed to Nepean Hospital where he suffered several heart attacks; doctors managed to resuscitate him but pronounced him dead shortly after 10.30pm on Saturday night.
“He actually told hospital staff that he had taken three pills,” confirms Head of the Drug Squad, Detective Superintendent Nick Bingham, as Perth Now reports, “(And) police also tell me there was another substance or substances with him.” Police are now hoping that the coroner’s toxicology results would confirm the official cause of death.
Defqon.1 promoters Q-Dance Australia have said they are deeply saddened by the man’s death at the event. The company said it tried to provide a safe environment with high security and extra paramedics rostered as part of their medical plan, which is reviewed by NSW Health. “I’ve been to over 50 music festivals and they have never been like this…”
There is also a zero-tolerance drug policy printed on every ticket sold along with a notice of a strong police presence. The promoter has previously cancelled a 2008 event held on the banks of Victoria’s Yarra river due to mass overdoses.
As for Munro’s death, given the short time between acts beginning their performance as early as 11am, shortly after gates opened, and Munro’s admission to the medical tent just before midday, it’s speculated that he may have swallowed his thee pills in panic at the gates in fear of being caught and charged for possession. It’s a similarly tragic scenario that led to the death of 17-year-old Gemma Thoms at the Perth Big Day Out festival in 2009, who panicked upon entry, swallowed three tablet in her possession and later collapse, taken to hospital and died the next day.
Intensive care paramedic Inspector John Brotherhood had dealt with Mr Munro at the Defqon.1 medical tent, and tells Sydney Morning Herald that he did not have friends with him when he was brought in.
“He wasn’t talking at all – we had him for 15 minutes,” he said. “Security brought him and then he was basically unconscious. He actually didn’t stop fitting until we intervened with medication.”
The New South Wales Ambulance Serviceman says he and his team of six paramedics at the festival had dealt with one of the highest number of overdoses he’d seen in his career. “I’ve been to over 50 music festivals and they have never been like this,” Mr Brotherhood – who’s been in the profession for 27 years – said.
“The overdoses were a lot more intense and a lot more severe in their presentation than we have had in recent years.” Further painting a nightmarish vision of the medical tent at the dance festival, Brotherhood added that punters were overdosing on drugs from “every letter in the alphabet,” including MDMA, LSD, GHB, and ecstasy. “If they’re willing to as you say stuff these pills down their throat before they even go into the venue, that’s hardly the police’s fault.”
“It’s a very concerning and frightening experience,” he said. “Their skin changes colour. They go dark blue when they are not breathing well, some stop breathing and [others] become violent and aggressive… [one man] had to be restrained and the other guy started having seizures and fitting. What was concerning was the escalation in aggression in patients and how quick it escalated. It’s lucky no one else was hurt.”
The NSW paramedic also refuted the Police theory that there was one “bad batch” of pills being sold on-site that was responsible for the majority of overdoses at the event.
Det Sup Bingham tells ABC News that police were confiscating many “green” pills, thought to be imitation ecstasy. “We’re not quite sure but there seems to be a common theme in relation to a bunch of pills with a horse head logo on them,” said Det Sup Bingham.
Over 100 police offers with sniffer dogs were present at Defqon.1 conducting an operation that led to 84 arrests for possession, while a police report notes that at least six people had snuck into the event and were selling from a ‘suppliable’ amount of drugs.
Det Sup Bingham says he understands that seeing police with sniffer dogs may lead some festival-goers to ingest all their pills at once, rather than risk arrest and a criminal charge, but said police cannot be held responsible for doing their job.
“People have to be responsible for their own actions,” says the Drug Squad chief. “You can’t blame the police for going out an policing a venue for trying to stop people from taking these substances. If they go, if they’re willing to as you say stuff these pills down their throat before they even go into the venue, that’s hardly the police’s fault.”
Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis posits that in Munro’s case, he may not have swallowed his three pills in panic over the police presence, but because he wanted them to take effect faster.
“Some of the drugs that they may have taken over the weekend had an actual delayed effect,” he said. “So with that delayed effect that may have caused them to think ‘this is not working, I’ll take another one, and I’ll take another one.’ Obviously in this particular young man’s situation it proved to be fatal.”
Det Sup Katsogiannis said police would continue to present a heavy presence at music festivals. “Don’t play Russian roulette with your life – it is as simple as that,” he remarked.