Friday, 26 December 2008

GBH, Ecstasy, Overdoses and Raves - Australian Style

Reactions to GBH overdoses at the X-Qlusive dance party in Melbourne.
How many hospitalised people or deaths do we have to have before some politician is brave enough to do something? And I mean something constructive and not just the political gabber of being tough on drugs or increasing penalties. Instead, the reactions so far have been childish and self-serving with knee jerk responses calling for changes that have no chance of success. Declaring war on rave operators is exactly the sort of response that does nothing except give the perception that tough measures are being taken. We must start to ask ourselves if the government strategies are simply the same old thing over and over again and what do they expect will happen differently this time around? Are they so blind to the constant failures that have got us to where we are today or is taking a different more pragmatic approach just political suicide and will never be considered? The only constant is that people will always take drugs. When will the government concede to this fact and we realise the decisions of our so called leaders will determine how many will overdose, suffer or die?

Crackdown on rave parties after dozens overdose on GBH 
-John Ferguson and Alice Coster 
December 2008 

THE Brumby Government has declared war on rogue rave operators after more than 30 people suffered life-threatening drug overdoses at a Festival Hall dance party. 

Rave-party organisers with bad records who allow drugs to flourish at their events will be denied permits under tough new sanctions planned for the industry. Permits will be harder to get for other operators after dozens of party-goers fell seriously ill at the X-clusive rave, which finished early yesterday. 

A bad batch of the killer drug GHB, also known as GBH or Grievous Bodily Harm, was blamed for the emergency. Twelve party-goers were taken to city hospitals in a serious condition, while others were taken to emergency departments by friends. They suffered fits, breathing problems, dehydration and hyperthermia - a heat-related illness that also can kill. 

Consumer Affairs Minister Tony Robinson issued a warning to the dance party industry through the Herald Sun. "If promoters are out there running events that are unsafe, then they are going to find it a lot harder to get a permit in the future," he said. 

"I'm putting them on notice." 

Ambulance officers were overwhelmed as they ferried party-goers to the Royal Melbourne and Alfred hospitals during Saturday night. It took eight paramedics and ambulance staff to restrain one man. Ambulance officers are alarmed the toxic batch of GHB has arrived as the music festival season gets into full swing. 

Next week's Sensation party at Telstra Dome is expected to attract tens of thousands of party-goers. 

Mr Robinson said the number of casualties on Saturday was unacceptable. "I expect, and I think the community expects, that if these events are going to be held, they are done so in an environment that is safe for the people who are attending," he said. 

"I'll be having private discussions with the Director of Liquor Licensing this week about tougher sanctions and stricter permit conditions but this is a warning that they are on notice." 

GHB claimed its first fatality in Victoria in 2005 when nurse Belinda Davey died in a drug dealer's car outside a city dance club. 

Ambulance Victoria operations manager Paul Holman warned it was only a matter of time before another party-goer died. "This is a very dangerous drug," he said. 

"It can absolutely kill you and there are recorded deaths from it. It's called grievous bodily harm and that's what it does to you. 

"The seriousness of some of these people that presented themselves on Saturday night really concerned us and it's only a matter of time before we get a death." 

Director of Drug and Alcohol Research and Education Australia, Paul Dillon, said GHB was a lethal drug. 

"It can kill, and has killed. People are really playing Russian roulette with their lives." 

Dozens of party-goers were taken to hospital after two rave parties at Kryal Castle last year. 

Police Inspector David Blencowe denied suggestions police should have shut down Saturday night's event. Up to 2000 party-goers filled Festival Hall for the drug-fuelled dance party. 

Police face a huge task on New Year's Eve for the Sensation event. "Certainly with an event like that I would imagine there would be significant police resources deployed and there would be a number of proactive steps taken, as well as trying to actually police the event," he said. 

Organisers of Sensation distanced themselves from Saturday night's emergency. "Sensation has asked people not to take drugs and are doing anything police and safety officers have asked," spokeswoman Erin Jameson said. 

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle slammed irresponsible rave-party operators. "You don't give permits to people for these rave parties unless they can show us a great track record in managing large numbers of kids at a rave party," he said.

You may have noticed that some official responses and some of the MSM made disingenuous attempts to beef up the event. For example, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle linked in “kids” to the adult only event. reported one person who had to be held down by 8 ambulance officers without mentioning he was fitting, referred to the event as “the drug-fuelled dance party”, insinuated GBH was still commonly used as an acronym for the scary titled, “Grievous Bodily Harm” instead of being the technical abbreviation for gamma hydroxybutyrate and highlighted a 21-year-old rave partygoer as some sort of expert with his quote, "Nine out of ten people were on something”. Some officials made ridiculous comments like declaring war on “rogue” rave operators and "I'm putting them on notice" referring to the dance party industry. Many of the overdoses from the X-Qlusive dance party could have been avoided with simple pragmatic strategies but in this climate of drug hysteria, these ideas fall on deaf ears. It’s that old problem of “sending the wrong message” being more important than the safety of users. One result is that GBH, which doesn’t have a good reputation in the dance scene compared to the relatively harmless ecstasy, has grown in popularity due to the increasing use of police sniffer dogs who can’t detect GBH. There’s no doubt that street GBH can be a nasty drug. Most GBH sold on the streets is actually GBL which takes longer to act so often users will take a second dose when the effect doesn’t kick in as expected. There is a fine line between safe doses which is made even more dangerous by back yard operations. Like most illicit drugs, GBH when taken in moderation and at the right dose, is relatively harmless. When abused or used in conjunction with other drugs, it can become lethal. order to metabolise GHB the body utilises the same enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol – thus when consumed along with alcohol the effects are vastly magnified – and can, in some cases, be fatal. GHB in combination with other sedative drugs is also liable to produce severe and possibly life threatening side-effects. 
-Steve Robinson. Community Development Coordinator - WA Substance Users Association (WASUA)

The increase in the use of GBH is another side effect from prohibition and zero tolerance policies. The incredible lack of understanding by policy makers has repeatedly caused more damage than good over the last 100 years. The influence of hardcore anti-drugs groups has created an environment of fear in their attempt to moralise a social and health issue by insisting that governments take on their ideology of a drug free world. 

Although history repeats itself constantly with one failure after another, the fear of losing public support or being classed as “soft on drugs” undermine all attempts at actually solving the problem. In the process of demonising another relatively harmless drug, ecstasy, more lethal, cheaper and undetectable replacements become popular. As we have seen with party drugs, the focus on ecstasy was replaced by methamphetamine hysteria and now that has given way to GBH so now there are three problems. GBL might become the next problem to replace GBH and the cycle continues. 

If ecstasy use was first dealt with a rational, scientific approach then maybe we might not have had the GBH/GBL overdoses at the X-Qlusive event. Most problems with ecstasy use stem not from the drug itself but from dehydration and alcohol. When there were ingredient problems, it was almost always because of contaminants or the lack of the key ingredient, MDMA. MDMA has very little harms associated with it’s usage but unregulated backyard operations are free to use any ingredients that suit their profit margins or because of the availability of precursor chemicals. In a vain attempt to disrupt the ecstasy market, the police managed to encourage a glut of low quality ecstasy pills and an increase in user problems arose. This led to some groups offering to test ecstasy pills at raves with the intention to inform users exactly what they were taking. This simple but effective idea prompted some potential users to dump their pills in bins provided and allowed problem users to get medical help. This approach did not judge users but allowed them to make informed decisions with the option of treatment. It’s no surprise that the government threatened criminal action against these medical groups and users were again left to guess what was in their pills. Once again, “sending the wrong message” was deemed more important than people’s safety. SA Democrat, Sandra Kanck once suggested pill testing at raves but was heavily criticised by resident SA nutter, Anne Bressington and other self righteous pollies. This attitude towards ecstasy has led to even more condemnation of the drug than previously although it is still medically regarded as much safer than alcohol. 

A recent scientific classification of various drugs ranked ecstasy at 18 out of 20 for harmfulness which lagged significantly behind alcohol at number 5. The list, published in the medical journal, The Lancet rated ecstasy less harmful than drugs like barbiturates, street methadone, alcohol, ketamine, Valium, Xanax, amphetamines, tobacco, cannabis, solvents, LSD and anabolic steroids. 

On a positive note, many readers of the above and related articles had alternative views to the usual array of inhumane and sick comments found on websites (including the HeraldSun, the Daily Telegraph, Adelaide Advertiser, the CourierMail etc.). Nearly half of the comments were cynical of official/government responses and critical of cruel and nasty comments from other readers. Many readers pointed out the inconsistencies with the public perception of alcohol abuse and the acceptance of drunken behaviour. Others questioned the logic of current laws which drive the black market. It is somewhat of a surprise to see so many sensible comments coming from readers who typically feed on sensational, moralising like hungry pigs at a trough. 

I hope more overdose and die because of it. My house and neighbors were robbed by a couple of the druggies, our hearts have since frozen. If those young people want to throw their lives away, so be it and they are the ones facing the consequence.  
Posted by: Joe of Camberwell

There were 4 main points raised by readers that had something useful to say. I have taken some of the best comments and classed them accordingly. As usual though, some readers gave insight into how uneducated they are to the subject they have such strong opinions about. It seems that propaganda about drugs is still as powerful as ever and much of the public eat it up so willingly. In fact, most negative comments were based on myths and misconceptions so I have included some of these comments under the topic below called Myths. 

1 - Limiting choices 
Unfortunately this is yet another example of the "success" of Police technology - while Police can detect ecstacy, cannibis and methamphetamines with their random drug-driver tests, sniffer dogs etc, they cannot detect GHB. If one of those ravers was determined to take something, and knew there would be a possible big Police presence around town with booze/drug buses, what do you think that raver would choose to take? It's an unfortunate outcome, but until the Police can find a way to detect this GHB scourge of a drug, there cannot be an surprises when people choose to take and consequently overdose on a cheap nasty alternative. 
Posted by: Mike of Melbourne 
Anyone taking GHB in a recreational setting is deep enough into the 'scene' to know that it's extremely dangerous in high doses (you can go from having a ball to being dead in a few drops). I would put money on people taking what they thought was a standard amount only to find out it is from a particularly strong/uncut batch, but that's what you get when you buy stuff of black markets. 
Posted by: Steve of Sydney
2 - Street Quality vs. Pharmaceutical Quality 
Maybe if we legalised drugged so that they could be made in a quality assured fashion, given in safe doses and managed in an appropriate fashion like alcohol this wouldn't happen. The taboo and stigma surrounding recreational drugs in modern society, when we claim to have progressed so much, is ridiculous. Most religions and cultural changes came fromt he shamanic and trance like states induced by natural drugs that were used by the clerics, tribal rituals and priests. Drugs that alter your mind set have played a much bigger rold in the way we as humans have developed than they are given credit for. I'd much rather my kid go out for a night knowing it is ok if they get in trouble to call the ambulance or their parents for help than dying in a drug induced haze in a dodegy lane or venue. Stop blaming the people and the drugs, and start working on the problem from a holistic point, in that it is now a big party of the party cultures in Australia and we need to work with people to prevent these things happening rather than casting blame and causing dangerous illicit home made batches to be sold and to kill. What if a bad batch of beer went out and made 40 people sick? would that be a waste of tax $$$ money to get them to hospital? should they go tor prison for selling or drinking it? should beer then be benned? It's just as much a recreational drug as dope, LSD, GHB or xtc! Posted by: Tom Jerry It is rediculous to think that there is a "cure" for the drug problem. Look at the statistics people, there are more people using party drugs than ever before. Problem is, there seem to be more "bad batches" now than ever before. Why? because drug supply is completely unregulated. We will continue to hear of these horror stories, and I hate to say, deaths due to "bad batches". Get your head out of the sand!!! legalise ecstacy and stop risking our kids lives with who knows what! 
Posted by: John 

Society has always wanted to get wasted. the effects of alcohol, cannabis, opium, etc. have been known for thousands of years and people have got high from them ever since. The USA proved that prohibition is a spectacular failure and detrimental to society at large, not just the drinkers, and the same applies to every other drug. if they were all made by pharmacutical companies and obtainable only with a perscription from your GP to treat "addiction" or what ever than overdoses would be a thing of the past. getting chemically pure drugs that have been issued based on your age, weight, size, etc. will give people the high they desire under much safer conditions. doctors, pharacutical companies and the government would all get paid then instead of drug dealers and the end user will be much safer because of it... 
Posted by: lee of maitland
3 - Demand 
Interesting analysis Joey. However, you should also be aware that the type of drugs you are referring to have and inelastic supply which basically means that as the price goes up, demand will not drop off too dramatically ie, there will always be a high demand regardless of the price. Same goes with alcohol, tobacco, petrol etc, etc. If it was as simply as you suggest (ie have much harsher penalties), then why do you suppose that people are sitting in prison on death row in some countries, even though the penalty for drug offences could not be any harsher. At the extreme, excessive drug taking should be seen as a health issue, rather than a criminal one. But anyway, the whole 'war on drugs' is much more complicated and sinister than you'd imagine but good luck discusssing that here even if there is a mountain of documented evidence which supports the shocking claims. 
Posted by: War of knowledge 

Notice how most of the damage done here is from the drug comeing from the black market? The exact same thing happened in America when they banned alcohol. Bootleggers would pass off metho as regular alcohol, and many people got sick from it. 
Posted by: Jak of Caboolture 

I agree with Jeremy. If you want to limit the chances of death and the pressure on hospitals then legalise drugs so they are regulated and you can charge tax on them - we will have a LOT more tax funds then. You will NEVER stop the world from taking drugs. 

Posted by: Elly of Another Party 
9/10 people were not on drugs this is a massive exageration. Out of the group of people who do partake in recreational drug use the vast majority take one or two "ecstacy" pills and cause no harm to anyone, all those people on their high horses should realise that it is them contributing to the problem by making these people feel like criminals which causes them to take greater risks when consuming them. It is only a small few who use substances such as GHB and I bet alot of them dont understand the risks. Education is required and for this to happen people need to feel its something they can openely discuss with medical proffesionals and even police. Proabition didn't work in the past and it wont work now. I would much rather be around a group of "criminals" who take a couple of pills and go for a good night than a group of violent, drunken idiots that seem to be accepted as part of our society. 
Posted by: Dean Cook

4 - Hypocrisy 
Alcohol is responsible for more assaults, violence, and crime in general than any other drug..... and hence costs the taxpayer more as well.... legalise drugs and let the gov' regulate it.... u cannot win this war, so how about we make sure they are all good batches and tax the hell out of it too....... and btw i was a drug user and held a steady job for 15 years - like a lot of people i know i grew out of it, and because i wasnt ever caught and treated like a low life criminal scum, i'm still working, and ive paid a lot of tax, so nah!!! oh and i love my rum now, so i dont really care, just dont make booze illegal.... 
Posted by: waz 
Heh. Listen to all you people up on your high horse. Whinging about valuable tax $ being wasted on these youths. How many of you are overweight?,how many of you drink to excess? then get behind the wheel? (even just a "little" bit over) How many of you smoke? These are also self-inflicted. What kind of strain will you put on the hospitable system. Perhaps we should have just denied them emergency attention and let them die. It's not like tax $ are being spent on some sailor who was on a self-inflicted trip. Hmm? Sure, drugs are illegal, and so they should be. But that's not going to stop people from taking them. The problem remains. AS does your bad behaviour. Hypocrites. 

Posted by: bill 
Either using drugs to alter you mind is alright, or it is not. The choice of which drugs, alcahol, cannibis, MDMA, GHB is a secondary issue. In the end of the day anyone who has ever got drunk is a drug user. They are drinking ethanol (yep, the same stuff that goes into cars as fuel) to change their perception of reality. GHB (oftern GBL in Aus) is a cleaning solvent. Explain to me how drinking car fuel is somehow morally superiour to drinking cleaning sovent? 
Posted by: Doug of Sydney 

Drugs aren't the problem, the people using them are. Same goes for alcohol and smoking. Educate the people and let them decide for themselves instead of making the decisions for them. Maybe everyone should look at the statistics of alcohol related, ciggarette related and fatty food related deaths as compared to illicit drug related deaths. Insanely 1 sided. 
Posted by: Drugs for you !!! of You backyard 

What a surprise. On one article we have many commenters praising a television star for getting "very hammered" in public, yet in another article we have a bunch of sparse anti-drug comments, despite the fact GHB was the only drug mentioned. Morever, GHB has a similar function to alcohol, that is, it is a depressant and intoxicant. Why should we shun one group of people for practically taking a similar action (to get intoxicated, "drunk") whilst praise another for doing the VERY same thing? Illegality aside, this is just moronic. 
Posted by: Charles Buddington

5 - Myths 
I read an interesting report on the cost of policing drugs in NSW which made me very angry - this money could have been spent policing real crime i.e. assaults, thefts and murder. What makes me even angrier is seeing the strong link between the incidence of assaults and the use of drugs - why do we tolerate these drugs in our society when there is such a strong and undeniable link to violence!!! This cost doesn't even begin to take into account the real cost these fools impose on our paramedics and hospitals. I agree about rapid and large scale enorcement - immediate incarceration for those appearing in public under the influence of drugs - like that fool from television. Take it off the streets, it is not acceptable. 
Posted by: Disgusted of Brisbane 

In stead of blaming the Police why don't you people cast the blame directly where it belongs, on the drug trafficers, pushers and users, and the permissiveness of society and parents nowadays, and the declining values and morals. The youth that engage in the practice of dealing in or takings drugs are a scourge to communities, forever looking for new ways to gratify themselves to get their kicks out of life. Drug taking goes hand in hand with the elevation of crime, to feed their habit. To Ross Morris of Torwood, and the other condoners of narcotics usage Hello!!! drug users ARE criminals, unless you are completely naive, drugs are ILLEGAL. 

Posted by: Aussie Kate of Oregon USA 
i agree with 'joey of melbourne' (comment 17) - we need to start cutting the demand because the current system aint working. If Rudd needs some capital works projects to sink some money into, then i have the perfect solution - BUILD MORE JAILS - and throw these loser drug takers in the slammer for possession or being under the influence Posted by: Glen of Gold Coast Interesting to here Police Inspector Blencowe put this issue in the too hard basket. Drugs are illegal, a venue with thousands of drug affected people in it is in breach of its conditions and his response is it is not in the best interest of drug addicts to close the party. Amazing Inspector! So if I get a couple of thousand people together for a vandalism spree or a shoplifting session will that be ok too..???? Enforce the law, thats your job. Shut down the venues and stop providing a market place for drug dealers. For all you idiots that think drugs are safe if you can't see the correlation between massive increases in crime and drug use perhaps you should clean yourself up for a change and have a look around you. 
Posted by: brendan of melbourne 

[...] From my experience, many of those that do take drugs were the ones that always had problems with discipline in high school. If they use drugs now, then their parents did a crap job, simple. 
Posted by: Interesting of Melbourne 

I'd like to say to those people spending huge amounts of money each year on drugs, why don't you have a think about those people suffering in the world who can't afford food, medication or a place to sleep. Compare that to the chemicals, physical and mental harm and burden on society drugs create and see which on is more deserving.... 
Posted by: Maree from Brisbane 

The problem with the drug epedemic is in the basics of markets. The authorities attack supply, with a lack of effort given to the demand side of the equation. Basic economies tell us markets are driven by demand v supply. But, governments through police attempt to target supply, which simply put means demand (and price, a further detrimental effect on society) to go up. Basic free markets tell us the way to cut supply is to cut demand - that is, the drug user. All the emphasis on the suppliers (dealers) is a waste of time without ever more effort placed on demand. If you put a mandatory jail sentance of 1 year or more on any person found under the influence of an illicit drug, demand will drop like a lead balloon. Then what happens? Supply decreases as the margins on the product deminish, to a point whereby it is no longer economical to produce/supply the stuff. You attack supply through demand, not demand through supply. Look up a basic supply v demand graph. In short, the authorities have it back to front, and wonder why they are going nowhere with it. Mandatory jail sentances for this idiots who OD - that will deter a potential user 100x more than a slap on the wrist. 
Posted by: joey of Melbourne 

What a waste of time and good use of a public service that is struggling to keep afloat .The ambulance service - should have been available for accidents - that are not related to drug choices being made by mindless kids. They are risking their own lives - and it is their own choice. By having ambulances attend they also risk the lives of responsible people who need the services of the ambulance - when and where required. Make the rave party organisers accountable for such medical attention without having to rely on the public service. You play with death - and you deserve to be killed.. Mindless - selfish - twits 
Posted by: kon of Melbourne


Anonymous said...

Brumby wouldn't recognise a good drugs policy if it bit his nose off and then set it on fire right in front of him.

The 2pm lock-out was an attempt to curb violence...but its effectiveness remains dubious. I mean seriously! The man is a bastion of short-sightedness.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks RVB

Sadly, it's the same for most pollies.