“I do ketamine or MD with friends at parties (…) I’ve seen people collapse, but I believe they weren’t careful. Mixed it with something else or had too much alcohol with it.” – Zoe (25), Melbourne
Last month, a video depicting 20-year-old Jordy Hurdes, shaking and stuttering after an ecstasy ‘pinga’ left him with possibly permanent nerve or brain damage, went viral.
The young Australian shared his near-death experience, urging people to stay away from narcotics.
Sylvia Choi, 25, made headlines two weeks ago.
The pharmacist collapsed after taking ecstasy at the Stereosonic music festival in Sydney. She was rushed to hospital but passed away.
Another woman in her twenties visiting from the UK was put in an induced coma the same day, nine people were rushed to hospital in serious condition and another 120 were treated for the effects of drugs.
Of the 50,000 festivalgoers that reportedly attended Stereosonic in NSW, the police sniffer dog operation sent 69 revellers to court with drug charges for possession of MDMA (a key element in ecstasy), cocaine, ketamine, GHB, LSD, cannabis and other illegal substances.
Meanwhile, a punter from Stereosonic Perth posted on Facebook that she sneaked dozens of pills into the festival, and thanked security for failing to catch her.
A 26-year-old Queensland police officer got busted with drugs on the Brisbane leg and had to quit the force. At the same festival in Adelaide, 19-year-old Stefan Woodward overdosed and lost his life.
When Melbourne’s Stereosonic festival took place last weekend, 60 drug arrests were made.
According to information provided by state police authorities, among the people arrested and treated for drug abuse were several Greek Australians.
“Drugs don’t discriminate,” says George Hatzimanolis, manager of youth and family services at Odyssey Rehab House Victoria, drawing attention to the staggering number of Australia’s young who, regardless of their ethnic background, are occasional poly-drug users or social party drug consumers.
“These are the people we are worried about, no matter how perfectly they may function in society. They are the most likely to overdose at a festival party, unaware of the effect drugs might have on their system,” he stresses.
Eugene Kontos, senior sergeant at the Victoria Police Moorabbin Prosecutions Unit, agrees that narcotics have been around for many years.
“If you look at history you’ll see it’s always been an issue, only in the beginning it was heroin, then cocaine, now it’s ice, MDMA, ecstasy, GHB and so on.”
Sgt Kontos stresses that drugs in Australia are not as ‘pure’ as in other countries. Victoria Police intelligence also indicates that a large proportion of people who manufacture the drugs are inexperienced and conduct their activities in unsafe and dangerous environments. In most cases the manufacturers themselves are addicted individuals trying to lower the cost and experiment on new substance combinations to increase the impact of narcotics. The Australian government is trying to combat this problem in collaboration with other countries where the drugs are coming from. Federal police recently signed an agreement with the Chinese police to tackle the ice epidemic.
“Not that there are any safe drugs, but you can’t be sure what you are getting nowadays. The substances are constantly changing, becoming ‘cocktails’.
“You are not just dealing with the substance you are after, but also dealing with the dangerous chemicals entering your system,” he tells Neos Kosmos, highlighting that it is impossible to know how a narcotic is going to impact you, especially if you are trying it for the first time.
“But every time is different and this is why you can never rely on previous experiences.”
Working in the prosecutions unit for several decades, Sgt Kontos has seen people lose complete control over their body and senses, putting everyone around them at risk. A substance abuser under the influence of ice and other hallucinogenic drugs spells danger for other civilians as well as medical staff trying to treat them and police.
“The anxiety and tension levels can reach unimaginable intensity,” he says. “Anything can go wrong. It usually does.
“People sometimes haven’t slept for days, are hearing voices and believe they have some sort of super-human strength pushing them to be violent, whereas the policemen and medical staff, the civilians around them, are normal.”
Helen Andrianakis, a professional clinician working for Corrections Victoria, has come across numerous drug-addicted individuals and drug smuggling convicts.
“I’ve been in the system for a very long time. The last few years, however, it has been extremely hard to handle,” she says.
“We don’t have seclusion rooms. The clients come through the doors and even in prison cells, the situation is unbelievable.”
The number of Greeks with drug addictions is increasing, as it is for all Australians, while the age bracket of substance use has expanded from 15 to 55.
“Even though the ice epidemic is huge in Australia, we need to be more careful with the young and curious,” Ms Andrianakis explains.
“I see a lot of students take ecstasy, MDMA and GHB certain these are relatively ‘innocent’ and good for sex. I’ve seen severe drug-induced anxiety attacks self-treated with 8-9 Valium tablets.”
The clinician is adamant that substance abusers aren’t at all intimidated by the dangers of ‘bastardised’ drugs and the stories of people who overdose at festivals. Even when they don’t acknowledge what the consequences of a drug are, they will be eager to try it.
“People beyond suspicion are, as we speak, trying to get their hands on the newest narcotics on the market for Christmas and New Year’s, chasing some excitement,” she says.
“I don’t know how much more we need to educate people, until they understand that this much sought-after buzz actually destroys the chemical balance in your mind.”
George Hatzimanolis also accepts that drug use has changed in Australia, and lack of awareness has helped turn multiple substance use into a ‘trend’. Poly-drug users still have their favourite drug, but they’re open to more substances. “Basically any substance that will make them feel a certain way.”
Most ‘social-users’ won’t have a huge problem with the drug, depending on the frequency and quantity.
“In many cases, you’ll have a group of 19-20 year-olds heading towards the festival or party having purchased x number of tablets from $120-150. Usually there are officers present with police dogs. Kids panic. They either have two options: to throw away the pills or take them. Sometimes we find anywhere from two-five tablets on them. Being uneducated on the effects, most will choose to take them.”
Social and health services’ major concern in fact lies with young people trying drugs for the first time and the occasional party user, who functions well in society – the curious people eager to give into some precarious form of excitement.
“The people whose parents have no idea, the ones that make it in the news, the ones that collapse and die because they are unaware.
“Someone who is dependent would be more conscious with the amount, since past a certain point people rely on the drug as a form of medication,” he emphasises.
During his 20 years of experience in rehabilitation, Mr Hatzimanolis has seen most social users drop the habit as soon as they take on some serious responsibilities and commitments. “It just doesn’t suit their lifestyle anymore.”
People who spend their entire lives chasing that first-time effect end up using increasing amounts of narcotics without ever ‘nailing’ that same feeling. The brain becomes dependent on the substance which slowly takes over the body and begins to destroy it. Drug abuse and addiction usually conceal underlying mental problems.
“No one wakes up one morning and decides to become an addict. They just want to fill a void, feel better, have fun. But there are consequences.
“We are telling people that the safest way to stay alive is not to do it, but if they insist on carrying on with it, we urge them to cut the pill in half and never to mix conflicting substances,” he adds.
Another important tool which in Mr Hatzimanolis’ opinion could save lives, is drug testing kits in venues. Whereas in certain venues in Europe the use of such kits is considered imperative, in Australia it is still illegal. In some countries police have even installed ‘amnesty bins’ where revellers can dump drugs without the fear of prosecution and find out what substances it contained.
“Pill testing needs to be made available at festivals, unless we want to witness more deaths,” he stresses.
“At the moment there is no way of telling what sort of chemicals are really in a tablet and how toxic or lethal its consumption can prove to be.”
According to a research surveyed by the Australian National Council on Drugs on 2,300 young Australians aged between 16 and 25 years, more than 82 per cent are supportive of the introduction of pill testing. Its effectiveness in harm reduction is strongly grounded by several European countries, including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Spain and France, which have endorsed the measure. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction released data proving almost 50 per cent of people who had their drugs tested in booths before entering the venue changed their minds. A significant decrease of dangerous black market substances was also noticed over time, leading chemicals identified as toxic or lethal to exit the market.
“This does not mean that we become more lenient with substance abuse, but it does mean that we take a different approach since the one we are following isn’t working,” Mr Hatzimanolis says.
“I believe harm minimisation can help educate people and make them more aware of the consequences. No matter how many times we go over this subject, it still won’t be enough. Education and prevention is extremely important and life-saving.”
In case you or
someone you know
is seeking support:
– Odyssey House Victoria is the only residential treatment program in Victoria (and one of only a handful in Australia) which allows mothers and fathers to have their children (aged 0-12 years) stay with them while they undergo treatment. For support and more information contact www.odyssey.org.au
– You can also reach out to Family Drug Support Australia in NSW 24/7 on 1300 368 186 or at www.fds.org.au
– The Australian Drug Foundation reaches millions of Australians through sporting clubs, workplaces, health care settings and schools, offering educational information, drug and alcohol prevention programs and advocating for strong and healthy communities. Visit www.adf.org.au
– To undergo a comprehensive drug and alcohol assessment in your local area, contact the direct line: 1800 888 236.
– If you are in distress and need immediate help you can call Lifeline’s crisis support line on 13 11 14. Find out more at www.lifeline.org.au
– If your life is in danger call 000
*Last names of the 5 Greek Australian festivalgoers who have quoted in this article have not been disclosed for privacy reasons.