A drug researcher and an emergency department specialist have urged a NSW coroner look to the Netherlands as a prime example of what an Australian drug-checking system could become.
Doctors, paramedics, drug users and health experts are among those to address a NSW coronial inquest into six MDMA-related deaths at music festivals between December 2017 and January 2019.
A key element of the inquest is the purity of MDMA, the presence of novel psychoactive substances in pills sold as MDMA and the lack of early warning systems in Australia.
Stephen Bright, a psychologist and Edith Cowan University drug and alcohol lecturer, told the inquest Australia should stop contemplating the introduction of drug-checking and instead implement a system.
He was among several to point to the Netherlands’ Drug Information and Monitoring Service, which analyses hundreds of drug samples each week provided by individual drug users.
In a statement to the inquest, he said the DIMS provided good monitoring of the Dutch drug market and allowed the government to issue timely public warnings when novel psychoactive substances are identified.
He said NSW already checked drugs after a drug-related death and in police labs, but the results aren’t typically made public.
“Had such a service been available in Australia, then some of the deaths from MDMA toxicity under investigation might have been prevented,” he said.
Nathan Tran, one of those whose MDMA overdose is under investigation, also had trace elements of potent stimulant PMMA in his blood when he died in December 2017, the inquest heard.
Canberra emergency doctor David Caldicott, who ran Australia’s first sanctioned drug-checking trial at Groovin The Moo festival, said the information was concerning and needed to be released to the public immediately.
Dr Caldicott noted DIMS uncovered a lethal dose of PMMA in a batch of ecstasy in the mid-2010s, leading to a major public warning and no deaths.
Both experts stressed there was no single solution to drug-checking and public health messaging but agreed it couldn’t occur solely in the context of music festivals.
The inquest resumes on Monday.