Lessons to be learnt locally from NSW inquest into drug deaths, says Headspace counsellor

Flashback: The crowd get into it during a live performance at FOTSUN in 2015. Photo: Matt Attard
Flashback: The crowd get into it during a live performance at FOTSUN in 2015. Photo: Matt Attard

As the inquest continues into a number of young people killed at music festivals in NSW, a Port Macquarie drug counsellor described music festivals as a "focal point" for young people to take drugs.

Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame is examining the drug-related deaths of six young people at NSW music festivals between December 2017 and January 2019.

Those six young people are Nathan Tran, Diana Nguyen, Joseph Pham, Callum Brosnan, Joshua Tam and Alexandra Ross-King.

They were aged between 18 and 23.

They could be any young people who go to music festivals and partake in drugs as many young people do.

Dr Peggy Dwyer

Counsel assisting the coroner, Dr Peggy Dwyer, said autopsies indicated they died from MDMA toxicity or complications from MDMA use.

"These six young people were beautiful souls who have been lost to us.

They could be any young people who go to music festivals and partake in drugs as many young people do," she said.

The chief executive of the NSW Users and Aids Association Dr Mary Harrod noted anecdotal evidence suggests up to 95 per cent of young people consume drugs at festivals.

Drug counsellor at Headspace in Port Macquarie Mark Davis urged parents to "have the conversation early" about drugs and "not the day before a festival".

He said plans and thought processes around drugs are usually underway well before festival day.

Mr Davis said the best approach was to keep "open communication with your child".

And he warned against a "big stick" approach.

Be aware of language, don't use too much judgement.

Mark Davis

"I would suggest the conversation should not be of the tone of 'I'm an adult and you are a child', allow the child ownership of the conversation too," he said.

"There are ways of having that conversation.

"Be aware of language, don't use too much judgement.

"A better approach is to say 'I'm a bit worried...I am concerned for you.

"As soon as you have any type of argument or judgement it tends to have the opposite effect."

Reasons for drug use

Mr Davis said there are many reasons why young people take drugs including social inclusion and that young people are more inclined to engage in risky behaviour.

But he said in his experience "self-medication" was the predominant reason.

"I would suspect that the self-medication is a large part," Mr Davis said.

"It might start with a bit of cannabis because it 'chills me out or makes me forget about something hard'."

Cannabis is the first step in the introduction to normalising drugs in a general sense.

Mark Davis

But he said cannabis was a "gateway drug" to harder drugs.

"Cannabis is the first step in the introduction to normalising drugs in a general sense," Mr Davis said.

Mr Davis said he sees the most problems relating to MDMA and cannabis use in his work.

Too much misinformation

The inquest heard from Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia director Paul Dillon on July 9.

Mr Dillon said it's often like "banging your head against a brick wall" because young people receive so many "mixed messages" about drugs, particularly MDMA, and its dangers.

"Some of the things I've heard, it makes your toes crawl," Mr Dillon said.

They might say 'I am just going to have a pinger' and downplay the impact of MDMA.

Mark Davis

Mark Davis agrees there is a lot of misinformation about drug use.

"A lot of what I do is 'myth busting', there are a lot of young people who don't understand the dangers of drugs," he said.

"They might say 'I am just going to have a pinger' which downplays the impact of MDMA," he said.

Mr Davis wouldn't comment specifically about pill testing but said there were some benefits with the process.

"There is probably more research that needs to be done," he said.

"But one of the positive things about pill testing is that they are having the conversation about drugs during the process."

"It is harm minimisation information."

Port Macquarie music festivals 

Port Macquarie has two established music festivals - Festival of the Sun in December and Lunar Electric in January.

The founder of Festival of the Sun, Simon Luke was contacted by the Port News for comment for this article.

He was unavailable.

A number of organisations such as Lifeline and Headspace have a presence at Festival of the Sun to provide information and support to young people attending.

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