MDMA hospitalisation cases in NSW hit record

There were 101 emergency presentations related to MDMA, or ecstasy, over the same week last year, 100 in 2016-17 and 107 in 2015-16.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said MDMA was particularly risky on hot days.


“The combination of hot days plus people taking multiple or high-doses of MDMA can lead to severe poisoning and even death – sometimes even one dose can be fatal,” Dr Chant said.

“MDMA affects everyone differently but its lethal toxicity is well known, so be aware of poisoning symptoms – a fast heartbeat, high body temperature, confusion and vomiting.”

Mathiu Vansyd, who was working at a food truck at the FOMO festival, said he saw Ms Ross-King in the medical tent, where he had also gone to get some relief from the heat.

He later recognised her picture in the reports about her death.

“Everybody was looking for water, water, water,” Mr Vansyd said. “The people who were selling water ran out of water.”

The FOMO Festival crowd at Brisbane's Riverstage were warned about the dangers of taking drugs.

The FOMO Festival crowd at Brisbane’s Riverstage were warned about the dangers of taking drugs.Credit:Lydia Lynch

Uniting chief executive Tracey Burton told Ms Berejiklian in a letter written before Ms Ross-King’s death that “the time has come for NSW to move towards launching a pill testing trial.”

“I am writing to you to offer the expertise, experience and resources of my organisation to assist you in finding an effective way to respond to the tragic, drug-related deaths at music festivals in NSW,” Ms Burton said in the January 9 letter.

“It is a process that Uniting would not only fully support but we would be willing to be active participants.”

But Ms Berejiklian said pill testing did not deal with the issues of overdoses or the toxicity of MDMA or ecstasy or people’s different body responses to the drug.

“It doesn’t deal with the horrible combination of drugs and alcohol, and drugs and heat,” she said.

“These are all issues that pill testing doesn’t cover and I don’t want to give anybody a false sense of security. I don’t want to give anybody a false sense that pill testing will save lives.”

Five young people have died at music festivals since September.

Josh Tam, 22, died after taking a substance at the Lost Paradise festival on the Central Coast on December 29; 19-year-old Callum Brosnan died after attending the Knockout Games of Destiny at Sydney Olympic Park on December 8; and Joseph Pham, 23, and Diana Nguyen, 21, died at the Defqon.1 in Penrith on September 15.

Josh Tam, 22, died after taking an 'unknown substance' at the music festival held on the NSW Central Coast. 

Josh Tam, 22, died after taking an ‘unknown substance’ at the music festival held on the NSW Central Coast. Credit:Facebook

In her letter,  also sent to Health Minister Brad Hazzard, Ms Burton likened the debate to that over the introduction of the injecting rooms in Kings Cross in 2001.

“At the time this was the first of its kind in the English-speaking world. It was by no means uncontroversial,” she said.

“Yet in the 18 years it has operated, Uniting MSIC has supervised more than one million injections and despite 8000 drug overdoses there has not been a single death in this time.”

Harriet Alexander is a reporter for Fairfax Media.

Angus Thompson is a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.

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