A mass drug overdose at a Melbourne rave last weekend was not cause by MDMA alone, with extreme heat and physical exertion also playing a role, Victoria’s health department revealed on Friday.
Nine revellers were raced to hospital following suspected drug overdoses at the Hardmission festival last weekend.
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Seven of the partygoers required breathing tubes, which were inserted at the festival by mobile intensive care paramedics.
7NEWS understands the revellers overdosed on methylenedioxyphenethylamine (an MDMA derivative) and that it is possible many more people were treated by paramedics, but not taken to hospital.
Paramedics had to call for backup from Ambulance Victoria at the rave due to the high number of patients.
The mass overdose prompted an increased police presence at Friday’s hip hop and R&B event Juicy Fest at Melbourne Showgrounds, where two men were arrested over alleged drug offences and two women taken to hospital with suspected drug overdoses.
Seven of the Hardmission Festival revellers received blood tests confirming all had consumed MDMA, six in high concentration, Victoria Health also revealed on Friday.
Four were found to have taken PMMA or synthetic cathinones, which are often mixed with or sold as MDMA.
“They have some similar effects to MDMA but appear to have a higher risk of producing unpredictable effects,” Victoria Health said.
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Three people also had methamphetamine in their system, but “do not appear to have consumed it intentionally”.
The department said temperatures, which topped 31C at the festival that day, humidity, the heat created by thousands of people dancing, along with physical exertion, were likely to have had life-threatening effects on the patients.
“All patients in this cluster experienced life-threatening hyperthermia (high body temperature),” Victoria Health said.
As of Friday evening, two men in their 20s and a woman in her teens were still in critical condition, while a man in his 20s remained in a serious condition.
7NEWS.com.au has contacted Victoria Health for further updates.
A large enough dose of MDMA is enough to cause hyperthermia alone by increasing the body’s core body temperature.
“It does this by turning up the body’s ‘thermostat’, releasing hormones that produce more body heat, and reducing the body’s ability to shed heat,” Victoria Health said.
“Even if you’ve used MDMA before, hot and humid conditions can make your ‘normal’ dose hazardous.”
Victoria Health revealed that dangerous levels of heat, in addition to various illicit drugs, played a role in the hospitalisation of nine Hardmission Festival patrons. Credit: Instagram
Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill said one person had a temperature of 41C, which is well above normal levels.
He said patients were unconscious and having seizures as their heart rate, blood pressure and temperature skyrocketed.
“I don’t think we’ve seen this amount of people in one event become so critically unwell that they needed to be placed into an induced coma,” Hill said.
He also revealed last week that he believed the mass hospitalisation may also be due to a bad batch of MDMA in circulation.
“These drugs are not made in batches of seven or eight, there’ll be hundreds if not thousands of these exact same tablets out there today and many more music festivals coming up over the summer season,” he said.
“It’s terrifying to think that this exact same drug might cause the exact same outcome for other partygoers.”
Reducing harm at festivals
The Department released a number of tips for drug users to help reduce the risk of harm at festivals, including sipping water often, taking breaks from dancing, staying with trusted friends, and going slow with dosing.
It also highlighted the warning signs of hyperthermia include feeling uncomfortably hot, nausea and vomiting, excessive thirst, confusion, agitation, muscle spasms, seizures or losing consciousness.
“Experiencing even one of these signs is reason to get help,” Victoria Health said. “If you’re at a festival, seek out the First Aid Service – these services often provide a very high level of emergency care.”
It warned that seeking immediate help when experiencing such symptoms at festivals “can be the difference between life and death.”