By Gabriella Payne
In a landmark decision, the Victorian coroner has recommended that the State Government urgently implement drug testing in Victoria for the first time, following a thorough investigation into the harrowing, drug related deaths of five young men, including a young Pakenham man.
Paresa Spanos, the Victorian Coroner, revealed her findings on Wednesday 7 April and said that the introduction of a drug checking service “could save lives” because as long as illicit drug use existed in the community, Victorians would remain at risk.
Ms Spanos’ made these recommendations following her investigation into the tragic deaths of five young men, aged between 17 and 32, who died in separate incidents between 2016 and 2017, after ingesting what they believed to be MDMA and/or magic mushrooms.
The deadly drug that they mistakenly consumed was in fact a combination of synthetic substances, 25C-NBOMe and 4-Fluoroamphetamine, which caused them to act strangely and erratically before they died.
One of the men, Jeremy*, a 22-year-old Pakenham local, experienced “unsurvivable” brain damage after taking the drug, while the other victims suffered seizures and cardiac arrests after running into windows and walls, and one sadly threw himself from a 10 storey building.
In order to prevent tragic deaths like these from happening again in the future, Ms Spanos’ recommended that public services be urgently implemented by the state government, where the content and purity of illicit drugs could be tested.
In her findings, the coroner also recommended that an “early warning network” be implemented in Victoria, where the government could alert the public to dangerous drugs in the community.
A spokesperson from Uniting Vic Tas, a local alcohol and drug support service, said that they backed the Victorian coroner’s decision to implement drug testing in the state, as they believed it would make a difference in the community.
“We support any evidence-based initiative that will help to minimise the risk of harm or death due to alcohol and drug use,” the spokesperson said.
“We believe a drug testing service will allow people to make more informed choices about their substance use.
However, any such service would need to be coupled with specialised support and access to a range of alcohol and other drug treatment services to be effective,” they said.
Uniting Vic Tas have helped thousands of Australians battling drug and alcohol addictions improve their health and wellbeing over the years, and believe these recommendations could help reduce “preventable” deaths into the future.
“Many of the harms associated with alcohol and other drug use can be reduced or are preventable,” they said.
“Substantial future harms to individuals, families and the community can be reduced or prevented by providing people with accurate information and appropriate support.”
For more information about the coroner’s recommendations, visit https://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au/inquests-findings
* Jeremy was not his real name.
– A party night and a poison pill, page 7.