One teenager has died and five others were hospitalized from suspected drug overdoses at Sydney's A State of Trance festival on the weekend.
The 19-year-old, identified as Tolga Toksoz, collapsed during the event at Olympic Park in West Sydney on Saturday. According to reports, he was assisted by medical staff on site but passed away later in hospital. At the time of writing, another 20-year-old festival-goer was in a critical but stable condition at Westmead Hospital. A further four men were taken to hospital, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
About 16,000 people attended the EDM fest, which featured a bill headlined by Dutch DJ Armin Van Buuren. Cops made three arrests for drug supply and issued about 40 charges for various offenses.
It's the third time drugs have been blamed for deaths at Sydney dance music events over the past 18 months. Nineteen-year-old Georgina Bartter died after collapsing at Harbourlife last November, while 23-year-old James Munro went into cardiac arrest and passed away after consuming drugs at Defqon 1 in September 2013.
The deaths have triggered debate on how law enforcement should pursue recreational drug users. Following the 2013 death, activists Green Left called for an end to the old hard-line policy. "Carrying on a failed policy, which treats users as criminals and the risks related to the illegality of drugs as endemic to the problem rather than a symptom of the way it is trying to be policed, is naive at best and criminally negligent at worst. Clearly this system needs to be scrapped," the organization wrote at the time.
Drug harm minimization project Unharm is behind a "ditch the dogs" petition, which calls for cops to do away with controversial sniffer dog operations. Unharm argues that drug dog operations were intrusive, have little or no deterrent effect and they increase the risk of drug overdose by panicking festival-goers into consuming all their drugs before going through the gate.
In 2009, teenager Gemma Thom died after she apparently swallowed three ecstasy tablets in an effort to avoid detection of sniffer dogs, which were checking patrons entering the grounds of the Big Day Out.
"What we're doing is clearly not working and we need to be looking at different ways to deal with this problem," drug awareness campaigner Will Tregoning, from Unharm, tells the ABC. He suggests drug testing as a potential solution.
Assistant Commissioner Frank Mennilli says New South Wales won't soften their approach anytime soon. "Police continue to use drug dogs and search people at events if we believe they are carrying illegal drugs. If you carry and supply illegal drugs you will be arrested. If I had more police there I would have arrested more people."