The mother of teenager Alex Ross-King, who died from MDMA toxicity at a music festival in January, has called on the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, to show “courage” by introducing measures to help stop further drug deaths.
On Wednesday, outside a NSW coronial hearing into six MDMA-related deaths at music festivals, Jennie Ross-King called on the state government to “show the same courage as these group of parents has, who have lost a daughter or a son”.
“It needs to stop here,” she said. “I say this to the premier; premier, thank you for your sympathies. This inquest has bought nothing up in relation to these tragedies for us – we live with this everyday, it doesn’t go away.”
She asked the premier to implement changes to drug policy to “keep our festivalgoers, as a start, safe”. “And ensure no other parent, brother, sister, family or friend must ever endure the unmeasurable anguish we have, and to again make Australia world leaders in harm minimisation,” she said.
The court heard on Wednesday that Ross-King sent a string of increasingly desperate text messages to friends asking for help in the lead up to her death.
The inquest heard that after “double-dunking” – taking two pills at once – before entering the Fomo festival in Parramatta earlier this year, Ross-King, 19, danced with friends and posed in videos.
By mid-afternoon though she had become separated from her friends, and in the hours before she died sent a number of text messages asking for help.
Between 3.34pm and 3.39pm, the court heard, she sent three messages:
“Fucksake I just want to find youse,” she wrote first.
“Bro can some just me from under the tree.
The inquest has previously heard that Ross-King took an unusually high amount of MDMA before arriving at the venue because she was afraid of being caught with the drugs by police.
As the afternoon went on and her friends looked for her, she sent a number of jumbled and increasingly incoherent texts, including about the presence of drug dogs at the festival.
The court heard evidence from a friend – who cannot be named – who found Ross-King about 20 minutes later. She was, the friend said, complaining of being extremely hot and taking short, quick breaths.
“Alex told me a number of times, “I’m fucked up” and “I’m hot,” the friend said in her statement.
Conditions inside the Fomo festival, the coroner’s court heard, were extremely hot. Ross-King’s friend said it was “so hot you didn’t want to move, you know when it’s so hot you can’t really breathe”.
For that reason Ross-King’s condition initially didn’t strike her as concerning. “I just felt like, oh, me too, I was the same,” she said.
But after taking Ross-King to find shade and water, her condition worsened. She stopped listening to her friend, started to walk slowly, said her legs weren’t working properly, and had her arms up near her chest with her fists near her mouth.
She was eventually spotted by a roving medical officer after she bumped into another group of people and fell over. Despite resisting, the officer and another of Ross-King’s friends got her to a medical tent, where the court heard she was “screaming, kicking out with her legs and in distress”.
The deputy state coroner, Harriet Grahame, is examining the deaths of Nathan Tran, 18, Diana Nguyen, 21, Joseph Pham, 23, Callum Brosnan, 19, Joshua Tam, 22, and Ross-King, 19, who all died from MDMA toxicity or complications of MDMA use at music festivals between December 2017 and January 2019.
Earlier on Wednesday the inquest heard evidence that alcohol was the drug associated with the most problematic rates of use.
A study, released on Wednesday by the RMIT university drug researcher Monica Barratt, found 6% of Australian festivalgoers who had taken drugs in the past 12 months had sought medical treatment.
Of those, 4.3 per 100 people who drank alcohol reported receiving medical treatment, compared with 2.5 who consumed MDMA and 1.48 for LSD.
Barratt told the inquest that in the case of MDMA the median quantity consumed before seeking medical treatment was three pills or caps, although most of those people mixed their MDMA use with other illicit drugs or alcohol.
Based on responses from 4,391 Australian festivalgoers as part of the 2019 Global Drug Survey, Barrett told the inquest that for those seeking medical treatment after drinking alcohol the median amount of drinks consumed was 15.
The Global Drug Survey does not measure the prevalence of drug use in the wider community – since its respondents are more likely to have taken a legal or illicit substance.
A separate study also released on Wednesday by the criminologist Caitlin Hughes – also based on the Global Drug Survey – found the most commonly used drugs among Australian music festival attendees were alcohol, MDMA, cannabis and cocaine, reported by 96.6%, 79.5%, 74.0% and 69.1% of the sample respectively in the last 12 months.
“While we’re focusing on MDMA, alcohol is the drug that is associated with most problematic rates of use,” Hughes told the inquest.
“So particularly when combined with Dr Barratt’s research, it shows the importance of considering poly-drug (multi-drug) consumption … particularly to reduce alcohol consumption at these settings.”
Barratt’s study concluded that risks associated with MDMA use – including mixing substances, taking large doses or not knowing the purity of a dose – could be prevented, and that some of the harms around MDMA related to “the lack of regulation of supply” of the drug.
“When you talk to young people about the possibility of consuming novel substances that they had no intention of consuming … most people would prefer to use MDMA and would prefer to use a known dose,” she said.
Barratt said regulation of the supply of the drug “could prevent some of the harms” associated with the drug, and pointed to research in the US looking to use MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It doesn’t solve the problem [because] there are idiosyncratic reactions to a normal dose of MDMA that we see in the literature so … it’s not possible to say MDMA is safe, it’s not that simple,” she said.
“But we can say that the safety profile of pharmaceutical-grade MDMA when provided in a quiet room with good ventilation and a counsellor is something that has reached stage-three trials and is seen as an effective treatment for trauma.”