OSCAR’S DANCEWIZE STORY: THAT NEW YEAR
We were eight hours into the New Year and I was tripping pretty hard, having set up camp along with 500 other doofers at the foot of Mount Lindesay, up near the border of Queensland and NSW. From my (admittedly altered) perspective, it seemed as if though the air around me was shimmering in sync with the bassline pulsating from the sound system. In retrospect, perhaps it actually was, similar to a mirage over hot bitumen; it was already pushing 28 degrees Celsius, and increasing with every passing minute.
Between October 2016 and January 2017, a series of notably similar overdoses occurred in multiple areas of Australia, that lead to 16 people hospitalised on the Gold Coast, three fatalities amongst 20 overdoses in Melbourne’s Chapel St district, and one fatality amongst three hospitalised at a bush doof I attended in NSW. News articles from the time are pretty dodgy in their reporting of the instances, with the Gold Coast Bulletin writing that the drug taken by those affected “may have been ‘bad trips’, a combination of LSD and MDMA known as N Bomb.” Other reports (and rumours that I heard) attributed such overdoses to novel psychoactive substances (NPS), specifically the amphetamine-like synthetic cathinone series which includes alpha-pvp, also known as ‘flakka’.
I was no stranger to NPS use -- at age 16 I cut my psychonaut teeth on nBOMES (sold as LSD), and have definitely dropped some very dubious caps purchased from equally suspicious dudes, but I’d never personally had an uncomfortable or dangerous experience with them. At this doof however I was a first-hand witness to some heavy shit resulting from NPS usage.
I was riding the peak of my trip when I saw the guys down at the d-floor freaking out; I was tripping so hard that it was hard for me to understand what was going on. I distinctly remember three of them together, shouting incoherently and falling over themselves. One of them was scratching at the ground and grabbing and clawing at his own face -- it was a truly horrific sight to see, with other witnesses describing their behaviour as “demonic”. There were people trying to help them and approach them, but the men were acting incredibly erratic and hostile.
I was back at the campsite later when we saw a helicopter circling the site. At the time, we assumed that it was POLAIR coming to sus the party out. However, the helicopter landed, and shortly after the rig was turned off. It wasn’t long before the word spread amongst those at the party -- one guy was dead at the scene, and the others were being airlifted to hospital. I was down at the dancefloor with a friend later, and we saw them loading the man’s corpse onto the helicopter. I will never forget that.
Since I started using drugs, I had always had an interest in harm reduction. This experience solidified that for me, and made me decide it was an avenue I needed to pursue somehow in my life. My first reaction was anger. I heard from a friend that the guys who overdosed had been sold the substance as crystal meth, and had smoked it. If drugs were decriminalised, maybe they would have been able to get legit gear easier; if reagent/pill testing was the norm in this country, maybe they could have checked what they’d been sold before taking it.
Looking back, I can acknowledge that while my anger and frustration may have been misguided and rooted in conjecture. I felt (and to an extent still feel) as though our backwards-ass government and archaic drug policy is to blame for these deaths and many others. But it’s all too easy to point the finger. When fucked things happen like this it’s natural to look for someone to blame -- but that doesn’t stop a friend or fellow party-goer from overdosing.
We hear a lot in rave and doof communities -- as well as the wider drug using scene -- about the importance of looking after each other. This is the primary reason I decided to volunteer with NUAA and Dancewize NSW. If in my role as a peer-educator and care provider I potentially stop even one person from putting themselves or others in a life-threatening situation then I would feel as though my partying is not grounded in the hedonism that people who use drugs are often accused of, but rather can be a positive thing that I can do for myself, my friends, and those around me.
I’ve only been working with Dancewize NSW for a few months now, but with the education and care we offer at music events, parties, raves and doofs, I already feel as though I’m making a positive impact in my community. We know that prohibition has failed; people will always use drugs. I believe that we owe it to ourselves and our communities to look out and be responsible for each other, help where we can, and make sure that when we use drugs, we do it in a safer way to avoid tragedy wherever possible.