Gemma Thom was 17-years-old when she bought her tickets and headed off to Perth’s Big Day Out music festival with friends.
“It’s going to be hot, you need to make sure you drink lots of water. Go to the first aid tent and get some suncream on”, her mum told her as she walked out of the house.
“Yes, Mum, yes, Mum, stop lecturing me, it’s fine,” was the typical teenage reply from Gemma.
Gemma went to the festival with 40,000 other revelers. And she never came home.
After taking three ecstasy pills, the trainee hairdresser collapsed and was rushed to hospital where she died 12 hours later.
Last week, Gemma’s story was shared on the ABC’s 7.30 program.
This is an except from reporter Bronwyn Herbert’s interview with Gemma’s parents Peta and Paul:
BRONWYN HERBERT: The teenager with so much to live for made a tragic mistake. Gemma, along with a girlfriend, took an ecstasy tablet before reaching the festival.
Gemma was carrying two extra ecstasy tablets that she was planning on sharing with her friend once inside the gates. But she panicked after seeing police drug sniffer dogs and swallowed those two extra tablets as well.
Inside the showgrounds, amongst a crowd of 40,000 people, Gemma became sick and was taken to a first aid tent.
PETA DAVIES: We got told she was shaking, she was… her pupils were dilated. She felt really hot. She was not herself. She looked pale.
PAUL DAVIES: She had admitted…
PETA DAVIES: She had admitted that she had taken dexamphetamine. We got told she admitted taking three. She then sort of had a basic assessment, nothing much, and then asked if she could leave and was let back out in the crowd again.
And I think it was only within not even an hour of her walking off somewhere else and going on a ride that she got off the ride and collapsed because she had already started going blue.
She was unconscious then at that stage and started having seizures, and then got taken to the second first aid tent.
BRONWYN HERBERT: And then an ambulance was called from there?
PETA DAVIES: And then an ambulance was called from there. I had a knock on the door from the police and they told me that they had suspected Gemma had had an overdose and had been taken to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and I yelled out for my husband.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Less than 12 hours after Gemma was admitted to hospital, Peta Davies turned off her daughter’s life support.
A toxicology report found that Gemma had three times the deadly dose of MDMA in her system. The drug caused her body to overheat to more than 45 degrees (eight degrees above normal) and she died when her internal organs started to fail because of the heat.
“She didn’t go out there to doing anything stupid. She just was there to have a really good time and unfortunately it cost her her life,” were the words from Peta and Paul Davis who want to raise awareness of about the danger of drugs.
The Big Day Out is a festival held in the capital city of every Australian state in January each year. It has a strict anti-drugs policy but that doesn’t mean that illegal drugs don’t make it through the gates.
In fact, more than 70 people were arrested for drug-related offenses on the day of Gemma’s death, three years ago. In the weeks after Gemma’s overdose, many people were quick to blame the police for the incident. This from the ABC:
New South Wales Greens MP Sylvia Hale has been warning governments for years this might happen if they use sniffer dogs at festivals.
“It just makes one incredibly sad,” she said. “What do you say to the parents? What do you say to the police or the state governments who have so consistently ignored the warnings?”
Ms Hale says a 1996 report by the NSW Ombudsman criticised the use of dogs at music festivals, saying they are ineffective.
“They’re real PR exercises, trying to persuade the public at large what they’re doing is effective. Whereas, indeed, it really is life-threatening behaviour,” she said.
But police and other politicians say that Gemma’s death was an example of the effects and risks of drugs and that the only solution can be for young people to be better equipped to refuse drugs when they’re offered.
ABS figures indicate that around 23% of people aged 15-24 years have used using illicit drugs within the last 12 months.
And the message to those young people from Gemma’s parents is clear.
“You don’t know what’s in it. You might look the same as you had last week but it might be different. It might be that potent and then you will end up like Gemma. She was a beautiful kid, life ahead of her,” Paul Davies said. “When they’re doing these things it’s Russian roulette. You just don’t know. You don’t know. You are taking a massive risk.”
You can watch the full ABC report about Gemma Thom here.
Did you take drugs as a teenager? Were you aware at the time of just how dangerous it was?