Tainted Ecstasy Suspected in Death at Australia's Defqon.1 Festival

At least 14 hospitalizations and 80 arrests mar Sydney edition of popular hard-dance festival

Sydney's Defqon.1 festival
Sydney's Defqon.1 festival
Philip Sherburne WRITTEN BY
Philip Sherburne

Another festival, another fatality. A 23-year-old man attending Australia's Defqon.1 festival this weekend died of a suspected overdose, reports the Daily Telegraph. The victim was treated at the on-site medical tent around midday and, following a series of seizures, transferred to a Sydney hospital, where he died following "numerous prolonged cardiac arrests." The young man reportedly told hospital staff that he had taken three pills, a drug squad detective told ABC. According to the Daily Telegraph, at least 20 people were hospitalized for adverse drug reactions; other outlets report 14 medical emergencies.

Roughly 18,000 people attended the one-day festival. Founded in 2003 by the Dutch hard-dance promoter Q-dance, Defqon.1 is held each June in the Netherlands and again in Sydney each September. Coone, Brennan Heart, Pysko Punkz, Gunz for Hire, and Endymion were among the headliners of the event, which emphasizes hardstyle, hardcore, and hard trance.

More than 80 people were arrested for drug offenses. Ironically, the heavy police presence may have played a role in the heavy toll: An artist manager told the Sydney Morning Herald that many attendees were taking all their drugs at once, before entering the event, in order to evade police and sniffer dogs. "Punters who intend to bring a few pills with them in case they feel like taking them across the course of the day are now forced to down everything at once in order to avoid possible arrest," said the unidentified manager.

Q-dance, like most large festivals, says that it maintains a zero-tolerance drug policy.

Toxicology reports are still pending, but police officials speculate that a bad batch of pills, bearing a horse head logo, may have been to blame. Ecstasy, or at least drugs being passed off as ecstasy, has been blamed in roughly 20 deaths in the U.K. this year, including seven deaths in Scotland this summer. "These fatalities exceed recent annual tallies of ecstasy-related deaths," writes The Guardian's Ian Birrell, arguing that "archaic drug laws" are to blame for the high casualty count. "For all the scaremongering, ecstasy is a comparatively harmless drug, less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. Sadly, in many cases the pill popped turns out to be the far stronger PMA, which takes longer to kick in, so users may take another, with catastrophic results."

As of early Monday morning, Q-dance had not yet made a statement.

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