Some doctors have lashed the State Government's approach to drugs at music festivals after two people died in Sydney at the weekend, and said the premier has her "head in the sand".
Joseph Pham, 23, from western Sydney, had a heart attack and died after an apparent drug overdose at the Defqon.1 music festival in Penrith on Saturday night. A 21-year-old woman from Melbourne also died.
Police said 13 other festival-goers attended Nepean Hospital for treatment for drug-related issues, while as many as 700 people sought assistance from medical staff on-site.
The deaths reignited calls for festivals to offer pill testing as a way of harm reduction, as the government's "just say no" approach was slammed.
Dr Nicole Lee works in drug and alcohol policy and said pill testing had to be in place to keep young people, who would experiment with drugs regardless, safe.
"These kids died because of #prohibition. More prohibition isn't going to solve this problem. Young people will experiment and we may or may not agree with those choices, but they shouldn't die because of them," Dr Lee wrote on social media.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Sunday vowed to permanently shut down the "unsafe" festival but continued to oppose pill testing.
"I'm absolutely aghast at what's occurred, I don't want any family to go through the tragedy that some families are waking up to this morning, it's just horrible to think about," Berejiklian said.
"This is an unsafe event and I'll be doing everything I can to make sure it never happens again.
"Anyone who is advocating pill testing is giving the green light to drugs that is absolutely unacceptable."
Ted Noffs Foundation spokesman Kieran Palmer told the Today show this morning the two deaths made it clear the government's approach of "just say no" was not working.
"The difficulty now that we face is that we've been handling this with the same approach for such a long time," Palmer said.
"We live in one of the most privileged countries in the world and we still have young people dying needlessly because we're doing the same old thing over and over again and we have the mechanisms that we know keep people alive."
Palmer said Berejiklian had her "head in the sand".
"Their opinion is based entirely on fear and not on fact and that's the most important point, this debate is no longer about opinion it's no longer about what we think might work," he said.
"We have the evidence. Shutting down festivals, getting tough on drugs, telling kids to 'just say no' doesn't work. It doesn't change behaviour."
President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation Dr Alex Wodak appeared on Sunrise this morning and was also critical of Berejiklian's approach.
"The Premier has zero tolerance to drugs, I'd prefer her to have zero tolerance to preventable deaths of young people," Wodak said.
Penrith MP Stuart Ayres supported the premier's vow to ban the festival and said via social media that Defqon.1 would no longer be hosted at the Sydney International Regatta Centre.
Acting Assistant Commissioner Allan Sicard on Sunday issued a stern warning to not take illicit drugs.
"We've done everything possible to make these events safe but we cannot get into the heads of people when they make the decision to take illicit drugs," Sicard said.
"They are criminally or illicitly obtained. The quality of these drugs cannot be ascertained.
"The lives of five people's families have potentially changed forever as a result of last night.
"Illicit drugs are illicit — do not take them, they are dangerous substances.
"We can only police an event to the extent that we can. We had uniformed and covert police at the event.
"We planned for this but it's a personal decision to supply drugs and take drugs. I'm a dad myself. I can't for the life of me understand why drugs are taken when you don't know what's in them."
Joseph Pham's Facebook post
Shortly before his death, Pham had shared a post from an anti-sniffer dog Facebook page about the "ridiculous" levels of "anxiety" and "guesswork" for festival-goers.
The death of the 23-year-old from Edensor Park and an unidentified woman from Melbourne follow two other deaths at the festival in the past five years.
Emergency services responded to multiple reports of suspected drug overdoses at the annual event — featuring hardcore techno, house and trance music, and dubbed by organisers as "the world's largest harder styles festival" — which attracted about 30,000 revellers. But just a few hours into the night, tragedy struck.
Pham and the 21-year-old woman both collapsed around 9pm and were transported from the venue to Nepean Hospital, but died soon after.
The Department of Health is fast tracking toxicology investigations to determine whether the two died after taking the same drug, The Daily Telegraph reported.
A 19-year-old man from Artarmon was flown from the festival to Westmead Hospital in a critical condition. He remains in intensive care. A fourth reveller — a 26-year-old woman from Jamisontown — also remains in hospital in a critical condition.
A third person reportedly arrived at a hospital in Sydney and is now in a critical condition.
One witness, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told news.com.au that five revellers who became critical first presented to medical staff in a "semi conscious state".
"They just looked like people who were a little bit too drunk but then things went downhill very quickly," the source said.
Defqon.1 Australia organisers this morning released a statement to news.com.au in response to the deaths.
"The organisers of Defqon.1 Australia are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of two of their patrons at Nepean Hospital after attending the festival last night and would like to convey their sincerest condolences to their families and friends," the statement read.
"Thoughts and prayers are also with the young man and woman who are still in a critical condition.
"We are disappointed at the number of reported drug related incidents, we have a zero-tolerance policy in relation to drug use at the festival."
Festival organisers are working closely and co-operating with the authorities regarding the fatalities and the number of medical presentations made during the evening, a full investigation is currently underway, the statement continued.
"As this is a matter with the NSW Police and the coroner and out of respect for the families and friends we are not going to speculate on the cause of death and we will not be making any further statements or comments," it said.
A total of 10 people, including two 17-year-old girls who allegedly carried 120 capsules internally into the venue, have been charged with drug supply offences; three are due in court today.
A range of illicit drugs were seized including MDMA, cocaine and ecstasy.
In a statement, police said a total of 355 drug searches were conducted with 69 people found to be in possession of drugs, including the 10 charged with supply offences.
"A multifaceted operation was undertaken at the festival with resources including the Nepean PAC, Police Transport Command, North West Metropolitan Region Enforcement Squad, NWM OSG, and the Police Dog Unit," the statement read.
Defqon1. 1 organisers had warned ticket holders the festival's drug policy was zero tolerance.
"This means that all types of soft- and hard drugs are prohibited. If drugs are found, you will be handed over to the police," a statement on the festival's website said.
Strike Force Highworth has been formed to investigate the deaths of the two young people and an investigation is underway.
In 2015 Nigel Pauljevic, 26, was found unconscious in a tent at the festival and later died. A 23-year-old person died at the festival two years prior to that.