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Grieving mother wants music festival pill deaths to be ‘catalyst for change’

On Saturday, Ms Tam and her sister were shown a demonstration of the tech one group of experts and healthcare staff is working with in an attempt to bring those sorts of drug-testing services to reality in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

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Health professionals, including psychologists, chemists and doctors came together to learn how to run advanced equipment to test the contents and the purity of drugs at not-for-profit organisation The Loop Australia’s training day held in Brisbane.

The organisation recently purchased a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer to identify drug samples and a UV spectrophotometer to judge purity.

The Loop Australia Queensland convenor Cameron Francis said the world was facing an increase of MDMA purity in drugs, which posed a problem.

“We know that when MDMA purity increases that we’re more likely to have deaths,” he said.

Joshua Tam died in December 2018.

Joshua Tam died in December 2018.

“The festival deaths in NSW last year, most of those were associated with high dose of MDMA.

“There’s a bit of a myth that people die from contaminants and other drugs being substituted and that’s happened in the past but what has happened in the last few years is that the MDMA purity has increased.

“I think especially in Australia because MDMA purity has been so low for some time that young people are used to taking two, three and four tablets at a time and once the purity goes up, people take way more than they should.”

Mr Francis, who is also a social worker, said attendees learned how the mobile-capable laboratory worked, including equipment demonstrations and lab methodology.

“We’ve had a chat about what the challenging conditions might be at a music festival and how we deal with things like humidity, dust, and heat,” he said.

“The testing methodology is also quite complicated because we could get mystery substances and there’s a whole set of processes to follow to narrow down and identify what it is.”

Ms Tam said she was hopeful the pill-testing approach would gain traction.

“It’s wonderful to see that there are people who unlike myself haven’t been touched personally by the loss of a loved one and who have invested a lot of time and energy to be here,” she said.

“We’re here because we feel the pain, we’ve lost Joshi, and we want to see if there’s a better way and this is one of them.”

A demonstration was held to explain what each station did to establish what the drug is.

A demonstration was held to explain what each station did to establish what the drug is.Credit:Jocelyn Garcia

Ms Tam said governments should be listening to the experts in the field.

“Unfortunately it’s come down to a political issue, which I think gets in the way of this being treated as a health issue,” she said.

She said it was time to help adolescents who lived with a “bit of reckless abandon”.

“We don’t shy away from this or hold judgment on Joshi,” she said.

“The reality is the younger generation will always try something and there’ll be worse things to come after this.

“That is unless we create more awareness of what the reality is.

“I hope people can look at this with fresh eyes, even if they don’t agree with it but we need to have strategies in place like this to build awareness.”

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