Victoria health officials have uncovered a new synthetic drug cocktail possibly more potent than anything they’ve seen before. A coronial inquest last week revealed the truth behind the mysterious death of five young men between 2016 and 2017. All victims had taken an illegal drug initially thought to have been a bad ecstasy.
However, an autopsy later found it was in fact a combination of two rare synthetic substances that may have killed the young Victorians. Health officials now warn that the drug might already be making the rounds across the state.
What danger does this new drug cocktail pose on your workers? How can you prevent it from affecting your workplace?
Synthetic drug deaths in Melbourne
Melbourne police discovered the new synthetic drug after the sudden hospitalisation of 20 people in one weekend in 2017. Initial investigation found that the patients had taken an illegal substance while at the Chapel Street nightclub precinct. However, investigators didn’t know exactly what the illicit drug was. They chalked up the possible culprit as ‘bad ecstasy’ at the time.
A coronial inquest looked further into the matter of the illegal substance. Coroner Paresa Spanos heard disturbing accounts of how five of the victims fell fatally ill. Each one allegedly thought that they were only ingesting a small dose of MDMA.
Four of the five young men suffered seizures and cardiac arrests, while one of them sustained an ‘unsurvivable’ brain damage. Their deaths happened across different parts of Melbourne between July 2016 and January 2017.
After conducting autopsies on the victims, investigators found that all five had a combination of two rare synthetic substances in their systems. These two drugs were 25C-NBOMe (bath salts) and 4-Fluoroamphetamine (amphetamine derivatives).
The revelation of the new drug cocktail alarmed health experts in the country. Both psychoactive substances found in the autopsy were considered ‘very potent’ and hard to detect. Toxicologist rarely encounter a combination of 25C-NBOMe and 4-Fluoroamphetamine. It’s highly likely that it was the first time the deadly mix was ever seen.
You can read more about the Melbourne coronial inquest and its findings here.
Victims’ strange behaviour prior to their deaths
What made the synthetic drug deaths more odd were the symptoms that the young men showed before dying. One of the victims, a 17-year-old worker at his family’s Chinese restaurant, reportedly started forgetting his name. He also began talking in the third person before suffering a seizure.
Another victim, a 22-year-old popular Melbourne footballer, had allegedly consumed the drug cocktail at a friend’s house. A witness said she saw the man standing in front of a door and staring at a wall.
At one point, the victim started talking about ‘strange things about life’ but suddenly became agitated. He then screamed at his friends, telling them to get away from him before charging straight into a glass window. His friends took him to hospital, but he soon died after the incident.
A third victim, a 30-year-old Port Phillip area resident, was with his girlfriend before suffering a seizure. His partner said the man started acting strangely while they were together. He kept looking at his hands, moaning and yelling while looking terrified. The victim suddenly began losing consciousness with his ears, hands, and feet turning blue. Despite his girlfriend’s best efforts to apply CPR, the man died on the scene.
Dangers of using synthetic drug mixtures
Synthetic drug deaths are always a cause of concern, but the incident involving the five young men is particularly disturbing. All of the victims were employed and had died thinking that the drugs they had consumed were relatively harmless. They had mistaken their drug cocktail as the familiar, relatively easily-handled and nonaddictive party drug MDMA (ecstasy/XTC)
A lot of people believe consuming ecstasy isn’t a cause for concern since it’s not as potent as most other drugs. Some of them even think that they can go to work after taking the drug. However, the situation couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In fact, MDMA side effects can last up to 24 hours after ingesting the drug. Some side effects can even show up as long as a week after. Symptoms of ecstasy use include nausea, muscle cramping or tension, and vision problems (blurred vision or increased light sensitivity). In some cases, it can also lead to anxiety, irritability, impulsiveness and aggression, and memory and attention problems. All of these can affect a person’ ability to safely do his or her work.
But that’s just dealing with the traditional MDMA variety. With the COVID-19 lock down disrupting normal drug supply chains, we could see a surge in novel drug mixtures. It’s becoming increasingly common for relatively innocuous substances to be ‘cut’ or adulterated with whatever other drugs are on hand.
Unfortunately, bath salts (25C-NBOMe) and amphetamine derivatives (4-fluoroamphetamine) are relatively easy to make in kitchen labs throughout Australia. Unlike MDMA, these drugs are highly addictive and can have a major impact on workplace safety.
This is a growing problem and should encourage testing for ‘synthetic drugs’ at work. So far, no one can reliably detect bath salts or 7-fluroamphetamine via onsite drug tests. However, we can detect them through our laboratory testing.