It was the evening of a close friend’s birthday and the night was as young as our spirits were high. The plans were typical: pre-drinks at a friend’s place before heading to a nightclub in the city. These nights have a predictable success rate, making them something of a rite of passage for young people in Sydney new to freedom. We had the essentials: a small but close collection of mates, plenty of alcohol, a destination to dance, and of course, some MDMA powder or “molly”. Sweaty euphoria, unashamed dance moves, exciting conversations with new people and a sudden appreciation for the genius of deep house; the charm of these nights is questionable when deconstructed, but sublime in the moment.
As we finished off the last of the booze and got ready to leave for the city, a friend snorted his MDMA. It was then that our assumption of predictability shattered. In moments he hunched over, moaning and shaking uncontrollably. In less than thirty minutes he had become deranged, unresponsive, disturbingly incoherent and intensely disassociated. He’d clearly been sold something that was not MDMA.
As time elapsed, his descent into catatonia deepened and our worries amplified. A panicked Google search of his observable symptoms revealed some insidious prospects, creating a grim shortlist of proverbial murderers falsely sold as MDMA: PCP, bath salts, methamphetamine and synthetic heroin. The prospect of fatality was beyond what a group of drunken mates were equipped to deal with, and so an ambulance was called.
His heart rate and pulse were dangerously high and his kidneys where nearing failure. Had he been without medical attention for longer, he could have died. One more moment of hesitation would have made all the difference. What my friend had bought as MDMA was identified by the hospital as the bath-salt mephedrone, known by the street name “meow meow” and steeped in infamy for its “zombie-like” effects after an American user ate a civilian’s face whilst high on it. Research added parricide, genital self–mutilation and suicide as the sadistic accolades of this innocently named chemical imposter.
In Sydney the ritual of the MDMA night out has reached a level of normality akin to the use of alcohol and tobacco. On this night, we had sourced it from a frequented, relatively trusted and personal dealer. The friend who had taken it was a safe and mature drug user. Whilst I would like to believe this was a one-off experience, or a cautionary tale to learn from, until drug policy changes, these risks are unavoidable.
At this point the arguments for drug legalisation are clear, and commonly known. Even if the government isn’t for drug legalisation it has an important obligation to address the increasing fatalities caused by imposter drugs. The most effective preventative means of this is drug-testing kits: pocket-sized solutions, which with a simple chemical colour reaction, corresponds to a chart indicating drug type.
Needle distribution and injection rooms are a step in the right direction, and making drug-testing kits available should be the next one. Both night clubs and music festivals currently forbid the distribution and sale of these kits, as it’s thought they implicitly acknowledge drug use. With that, comes an attitude of blaming users instead of the system which encourages the distribution of these callous imposter drugs, an attitude that must be rectified for young people’s safety.
It was the evening of a close friend’s birthday and the night was as young as our spirits were high. We thought we’d bought some MDMA but a mate’s testing kit revealed it to be an imposter, so we sacked the shit, had a couple more drinks and continued another great night out.