In four days, tens of thousands of young people will head to music festivals around the country to celebrate the Australia Day weekend, probably under the burning sun and probably under the influence of either drugs or alcohol.
In NSW alone, five young people have tragically lost their lives to drugs in the past four months, prompting calls for harm minimisation measures such as pill testing.
But the NSW government is holding firm on its opposition to pill testing, unveiling a handful of strategies it hopes will stem the number of people being hurt or killed by illicit drugs.
Speaking at a press conference earlier today, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the government had made a number of “major steps to keep young people safe”.
The government will push harm reduction this weekend for three high-risk Australia Day music festivals, rostering on specialised critical care medical teams and rolling out a social media campaign around illicit drugs.
“We will do all we can to ensure that if you come to a festival and get yourself in a bother, you should immediately go along to a medical tent where we will do everything possible to look after you,” Mr Hazzard said.
“You need not fear, you will not be reported to the police.”
Mr Hazzard said the decline of young people’s interest in TV led NSW Health to centre its ad campaign exclusively on social media.
Three ads, including one warning young people of landing in hospital, one of a paramedic caring for festivalgoers and another headed by volunteer group Dancewize, will run on Facebook, Instagram and Spotify.
“Young people don’t get premium content on Spotify, they’re not paying for it so they have to watch the content before they can listen to music,” a NSW Health worker said.
Mr Hazzard confirmed taxpayers would be funding the critical care teams stationed at the three high-risk festivals this weekend.
Teams will be on high alert at Electric Gardens, held at Centennial Parklands in Sydney’s east, and separate festivals Hardcore Til I Die and Rolling Loud at Sydney Olympic Park.
Temperatures are expected to hit well into the 30s this weekend in Sydney, enhancing the effects of alcohol and drugs — reactions the critical care teams are ready for.
“The key is early recognition,” NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said. “Just get them along to seek help.”
NSW Health representatives and Ambulance NSW debrief after every music festival and form a set of “living guidelines” to adopt at the next event.
At the next music festival, Dr Chant said medical teams will be responding more “aggressively”.
“The issue is the seniority and the aggression of management…At these type of events we’re seeing patients that are severely hypothermia, their core body temperature is 42, 43C and at that temperature your body is starting to break down,” Dr Chant said.
“Often there has been doctors at these types of events but what we have recognised is the types of patients that we’re seeing need critical care and an urgency for intervening with their cooling, we really need a much higher level of capability so people that are able to paralyse use, chemical restraints and do much more aggressive management.”
At an average Aussie festival, paramedics transfer 11 people to hospital but Dr Chant said that was a figure NSW Health was happy to increase.
“We’re trying to get the message out that early transfer to hospital is a really good thing. It shouldn’t be seen negatively, we should define that as a success,” she said.
“The statistics of young people going to hospital after a music event can sometimes be portrayed that the event’s been run poorly…from a medical outcome perspective we would rather patients that are transported to hospital and only stay four hours — and at least make it to the emergency department — than the other way around.”
Festivalgoers are encouraged to head to “Chill Out zones” or medical tents if they’re feeling out of sorts.
Health authorities are also encouraging mates to spot for warning signs including high temperatures, excess sweating, confusion or delirium. Volunteer groups such as Dancewize will also be working in the Chill Out zones handing out free water and taking the temperature of some revellers.
“The key message is, if you have any doubt, please seek help early,” Dr Chant said.
“Once people are on a pathway and their temperature is very highly elevated, there is an opportunity for intervention and as the minister said we’re putting on the best, highly qualified staff but at some point the outcome will become much more tragic.”
Earlier today, a Sydney court heard one young man may have taken up to nine high-purity MDMA pills in the hours before he died at a NSW music festival.
The coroner is examining the deaths of five young people — Diana Nguyen, Joseph Nguyen Binh Pham, Callum Brosnan, Joshua Gerard Tam and Alexandra Ross-King — at NSW festivals since mid-September.
It’s thought MDMA was a factor in each case, but counsel assisting Peggy Dwyer on Tuesday said while they all took pills, the circumstances of their deaths varied.
One young person appeared to have taken a single MDMA tablet while evidence suggests one of the men who died took six to nine pills which were 77 per cent pure MDMA.
“(That’s) a very high rate of purity,” Dr Dwyer told the Glebe Coroners Court during a directions hearing.